Special to the Journal
Far from the bright lights of Hollywood in a small rural town in Southwest Georgia, students in the Albany State University TOP (Targeting Our Past) Learning Community received a how-to-create-history-for-the-movies experience. In Colquitt, Ga. at the Jakara-Micheaux Studio, the students viewed the feature film, “Hope & Redemption: The Lena Baker Story,” received a studio tour, listened to a presentation from the film’s director, and were given an opportunity to ask questions about the production.
Dr. Florence Lyons, project director of the TOP Learning Community, said the trip reinforced the students’ understanding of the Lena Baker case, a topic previously discussed in students’ history class and a subject of a written composition in their English class.
ASU’s TOP Learning Community pairs an English composition class taught by Dr. Devona Mallory, assistant professor of English, and a survey of history class taught by Dr. Maurice Melton, associate professor of history. The program is designed to provide students with increased opportunities for academic success, experiential learning, enhanced intellectual development through collaborations with classmates and professors outside of a class setting, and to have fun while learning.
According to Mallory, the trip to Colquitt provided important first-hand information and details to support student learning.
“It was a great opportunity for our students to see how history can be recreated in film,” Mallory said. “Students were able to see actual props used in the production, such as the electric chair used to electrocute Lena Baker.”
Melton agreed, saying the trip, which included a tour of the studio, gave his history students valuable life lessons as well.
“It was a very good tour,” he said. “It (the film) was surprisingly true to the book and not sensationalized at all. I also liked that Ralph Wilcox, the director, took the students on the sound stage and talked to them about life, success and the importance of following their dreams. He talked to them about how to make it happen. His conversation was about taking a chance in life to be successful. He also shared his experience of coming to rural Colquitt, Ga., to build and operate a movie studio.”
Adapted from a book authored by Southwest Georgia resident Lela Bond Phillips, with assistance by Karan Pittman, the story was written for the screen by director Ralph Wilcox. The film is based on the true story of Lena Baker, a rural South Georgia woman who was the first and only black woman to be executed in Georgia. It tells the story of Baker’s 1945 electrocution and confronts racism, abuse of women and injustice, but honors a family’s fight for justice. Actress Tichina Arnold, best-known for her role as Pamela James on the hit 1990s TV series “Martin,” stars in the 2008 drama that’s now available on DVD. The book is on sale at the Albany Civil Rights Museum.