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Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in Albany

Screening of documentary film “The Brothers,” directed by UAlbany’s Director of Digital Media, to be shown in Science Library today at 7 p.m.

The lobby card for The Brothers.  

ALBANY, NY (March 21, 2016) — A largely forgotten but significant late 1960s civil rights group that brought about profound change in Albany is the subject of the documentary film, The Brothers: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in Albany, which will be screened this evening in the Patricia & J. Spencer Standish Board Room of the Science Library at 7 p.m.

A question-and-answer session with two original members of The Brothers, Earl Thorpe and Purcell McDowell, will follow the 20-minute screening. Light refreshments will be served.

Paul Miller, UAlbany’s director of digital media, directed and edited the 2014 work, which updated a 2006 film produced and directed by Department of History undergraduate students in a course designed and taught by Professor Gerry Zahavi, with assistance from lecturer Susan McCormick.

As part of Miller's pursuit of a masters in history and media, he re-edited the original and added interviews, among them with Thorpe, Albany residents and political figures of that time, and William Kennedy, who wrote about the group for the Times Union. Interviews with several other Brothers remained from the original film.

UAlbany Paul Miller director

Paul Miller, at right, director and editor of The Brothers, leads high school students in a video workshop at UAlbany.

New archival photos also were secured from Brian Keough, head of the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collection & Archives. “This is an opportunity to receive a local, firsthand account of the civil rights movement,” said Keough. "It has been largely forgotten that the struggle for civil rights was very active right here in Albany and not just the Deep South."

"The documentary, with Paul’s great work, takes on a new life in the community," said McCormick. "It's an exemplary example of scholarship that is engaged with the community."

In 2015, Miller attended a screening at City Hall by invitation of Mayor Kathy Sheehan, where he participated in a Q&A along with Keough and former Brothers members, moderated by former Albany community organizer and Common Council member Barbara Smith.

He ascribed the power of the film to the courage of the people portrayed and to what his academic work at UAlbany has added to the extensive professional television production experience he had before coming to the University.

“The history and media track — now called public history here at UAlbany — has fantastic professors with amazing experience,” he said. “Throughout my career, I was comfortable with how to make documentaries, but I’m learning so much about the ‘why’ of documentary filmmaking that it’s really helping me grow as a filmmaker and storyteller.”

Miller is now preparing to create a new documentary by researching the life of Gerrit Smith, a wealthy landowner and ardent abolitionist from central New York who tried to fight slavery by granting land in the Adirondacks and other areas to poor African Americans in order to enfranchise them with the right to vote. The film will serve as Miller’s master’s thesis.

This evening’s event is presented by UAlbany’s History Graduate Student Organization in collaboration with the University Libraries and its Special Collection & Archives, which holds the records of The Brothers.

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