Joan Trumpauer Mulholland began protesting for civil rights in the early 1960s and was part of many of the important civil rights protests of the decade. Her son Loki has become an Emmy-award winning director and in our next conversation, we’ll talk about why he made a film about his mother’s activism.
Loki: By the time my mom was 19 years old, she had been involved in about three dozen sit ins and protests when she joined the Freedom Rides and was put on death row. That’s the beginning of her story. She’s kind of the Forrest Gump of civil rights. She was everywhere and knew everyone, from Fannie Lou Hamer to Dr. King, Jackie Robinson. Actually, I learned more about my mom after I made the film than I did during making the film, because there’s new stuff that comes out all the time.
GT: Yes, so you’re talking about “An Ordinary Hero.”
Loki: “An Ordinary Hero.” Yes. I’m sorry. Yeah. So, the documentary that I did about my mother called, “An Ordinary Hero,” which is about her life in the student movement of the civil rights movement. When she was 10 years old, she went to Georgia where her grandmother lived, the southern grandmother. Every summer they would go there. When she was about 10 years old, on a dare, her and her friend go to the black quarters. Of course, they had a different name for it then. She saw the discrepancy in the living situations, but in particular, the schoolhouse. So, the schoolhouse is like classic, straight out of Hollywood, black one room schoolhouse for black children, with no glass in the windows, no paint on the walls. [There was] a potbelly stove in the middle, for heat, an outhouse. This is in stark contrast to the brand-new post-World War II brick building, that was in this little town for the white students. Now that building is still the nicest building in Oconee, Georgia. It’s now just a rest home for, probably for all those students, [who were there] 70 years ago. So, she sees this, and she says, “This is wrong, I’ve got to do something about it.” She said she’s actually said that it rattled her soul, because of what she was taught in church. My mom’s Presbyterian, [she was taught] that we do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “If you’ve done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” She says all of that good King James stuff. She really took that to heart.
Loki: She had to memorize the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and she really believed it. “The values of what our country espouses,” she said, “We’re just not living up to them.” So, when she sees this for herself, for the first time, for real–we can see things all the time, but it’s not–when it finally registers, I guess, is the point. [She] kind of connected the dots. All of a sudden, it became, “Wow, this is wrong.”
Loki: That’s the 1963 Woolworth’s lunch counter, Jackson, Mississippi, where they poured the stuff on her head, and there’s Ann Moody and John Salter and a mob of two or three hundred people behind them. I can probably count on my hands the number of times my mom has been–that’s when I thought we were going to die. I found out later, she was, actually, on the Klan’s most wanted list, and was actually hunted down for execution. But, because they failed, they ended up killing a couple of her friends, instead.
GT: Oh, wow. That’s terrible.
Loki: My mom’s pretty cool. I get people asked me all the time, “Well, would you sit at the lunch counters?” I’m like, “Well, I don’t have to. My mother already did. But I have to do what I can do, because doing nothing is not an option.”
GT: So these films are kind of your lunch counter.
Loki: Films are my lunch counter, it’s my way of continuing that process of healing and educating and moving the work forward to help us actually form that more perfect union, to go back to the principles of who we are as a nation, of who we want to be as a nation. We’ve gotten better. We honestly have, I mean, good grief. We don’t have slavery anymore. We don’t have Jim Crow anymore. I mean, we actually had a black president, we have a black Vice President. That’s progress. It doesn’t mean that there’s still not that foundation of racism that we still need to work on, that each of us need to work on. There’s something to be said, when President Oaks is saying Black Lives Matter, when the First Presidency is very open about race and racism in America, and within the Church, and how we should be living as members of the Church, as well. There’s, I mean, you can either take the buffet approach to the gospel and pick what you like, and so forth and ignore the rest. or say that–the argument I’ve always heard is, “Well, they’re just trying to be with the times.” I’m like, “Okay, when has the First Presidency ever tried to be with the times?”
What do you think of Loki’s activism? Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our previous conversation with Loki.