South Orangetown Central School District

Documentary filmmaker Craig Dudnick spoke with Tappan Zee High School U.S. History Regents and Honors students this morning about the Civil Rights Movement and “Alice’s Ordinary People,” his 2013 film.

Mr. Dudnick discussed the decades-long friendship he shared with Viola Hillsman, a cook in his college fraternity house, who inspired his first film, “Evanston’s Living History,” and spurred his interest to learn more about American history has been shaped by black activism.

When he visited Evanston with Mrs. Hillsman years ago, Mr. Dudnick recalled seeing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home. “I was struck by the ordinariness of it. He was a great figure, and yet his home looked ordinary.” His impression was reinforced by Alice Tregay, a central figure in “Alice’s Ordinary People,” who told him, “It’s the ordinary people who do everything in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mr. Dudnick walked students through the timeline of key events in the Civil Rights Movement, starting with the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision in May 1954. He noted that the development of the 16mm camera swayed public support as footage of brutality against peaceful protesters was broadcast around the world. Mr. Dudnick also highlighted the enduring impact of activists’ efforts, in terms of legislation and changing the face of politics. “They sought peace through justice, rather than peace through violence,” Mr. Dudnick explained. “Nonviolence is not a gentle thing. It requires courage.”

Mr. Dudnick’s talk was made possible through a partnership between Tappan Zee High School and the Orangeburg Library. “Mr. Dudnick’s work ties very closely with our U.S. History curriculum,” said Principal Dr. Jennifer Amos. Regents and Honors U.S. History students previewed “Alice’s Ordinary People” earlier this week, in preparation for today’s presentation. AP students will view the film after their exam next month.

“His presence was striking and what he said was moving,” reflected Viancha, a junior.

“So much of what we hear about the Civil Rights Movement is about suffering,” added Sophia, also a junior. “This made me hopeful for the future. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in, even if you’re by yourself.”

“The struggle for justice is nothing new for this country. The history is not all in the history books.” Mr. Dudnick told students. “You must search yourself to see what you believe and then act on it. Unless you’re willing to take a stand, you’re never going to become the whole person you are meant to be.”

Copies of “Alice’s Ordinary People” are available for borrowing through our local libraries.

Adult male shaking female hand