Documentary revists a 1963 civil rights boycott

Apr 9, 2013

Credit SW Michigan Black Heritage Society

Like many cities, Kalamazoo has traveled a long road toward greater racial equality. But the Civil Rights Movement first hit home in 1963 when black residents boycotted a local drugstore that refused to hire African-American workers. Now, students in a class at Kalamazoo College debut a video documentary about the Van Avery Drugstore boycott on Tuesday, April 9th, at 7 p.m. in the Olmstead Room at Mandelle Hall.

English professor Bruce Mills says the project followed his interest in an appearance by African-American writer James Baldwin at Kalamazoo College in 1960. Mills hopes to create an archive of material related to Baldwin’s time in Kalamazoo and the light in sheds on civil rights in that era.

Mill’s students worked on the documentary How Did Civil Rights Happen in Kalamazoo? with the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society headed by Donna Odom. She says it includes oral history interviews with people who were involved in the boycott - people like educator Charles Warfield; city employee James Washington, Senior; Kalamazoo teacher Phyllis Seabolt; and Cal Street, one of the first black students at Loy Norrix High School. Some of them will be on hand to answer questions after the documentary is shown.

Mills says he and his students were surprised by the interviews. He says they showed that a person’s decision to become involved in the Van Avery boycott and the wider civil rights movement were often complicated. They involved their relationships with parents, relatives, and neighbors.

Odom says the documentary is part of the Engaging the Wisdom Oral History Project of the Kalamazoo Racial Healing Initiative.