Unsung Foot Soldiers   marchers
The Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies
foot soldiers

About the Project: Introduction

The Need to Document Unsung Foot Soldiers

During the twentieth century, the American South produced a number of African American social activists, intellectuals, and politicians who helped dismantle the institution of Jim Crow to create what is referred to today as the “New South.” Noted figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, and John Lewis are only a few of those hailed as significant contributors to the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, well-known events such as The March on Washington, “Bloody Sunday,” the March to Selma, and the desegregation of the Universities of Alabama and Mississippi have come to represent the major events of the civil rights movement in the popular media.

FSP collageIn recent years, some historians and filmmakers have begun to call attention to the many “foot soldiers” in the civil rights movement who have not been widely recognized or acclaimed. The Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies, a documentary and research program at The University of Georgia, joins this vanguard. The Foot Soldier Project is dedicated to chronicling Georgia’s rich history in the civil rights movement. While Georgia is the home of numerous, nationally celebrated civil rights figures and events, many other Georgia trailblazers and significant events in the civil rights movement have been neglected or forgotten. The Foot Soldier Project (FSP) focuses on these unsung foot soldiers, those individuals who, despite playing significant, powerful, and historic roles in the movement, remain largely obscure. It is crucial to recount the stories of these foot soldiers, for although their efforts have not been well documented or widely publicized, their courage and contributions have nevertheless transformed our nation.

The foundation for the project is Horace T. Ward: Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Civil Rights Advocacy, and Jurisprudence by University of Georgia social work professor Maurice Daniels, which focuses on the life of federal judge Horace T. Ward. Research from this book and the companion civil rights documentary, Foot Soldier for Equal Justice, yielded more than thirty rare interviews of civil rights figures and leading public officials from Georgia and around the country, including Ward and fellow federal judges Constance Baker Motley and William Bootle, attorneys Donald Hollowell and Vernon Jordan, Dr. Hamilton Earl Holmes, former U.S. senator Herman Talmadge, and former Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver.

In 2004, Daniels and historian Derrick P. Alridge, associate professor in UGA’s College of Education, completed the production of Hamilton Earl Holmes: The Legacy Continues, a civil rights film that chronicles the story of the first black man to achieve admission to the University of Georgia. A desire to share the stories of Ward, Holmes, and other unsung foot soldiers with a wider audience spurred the creation of The Foot Soldier Project. A commitment to preserve and make accessible the valuable interviews and documents collected during the research for these films led the Foot Soldier Project to forge a partnership with the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies and to name the Library as the official repository for the Project.

The FSP’s focus on unsung heroes in the freedom struggle provides a grassroots view of historical events that helped shape the struggle for social and economic justice in the U.S. The recovery of previously overlooked events and figures in history highlights the pivotal role played by the many individuals, groups, and communities whose collective efforts yielded social change. Illuminating an understanding of the African American past as shaped by the combined contributions of many provides the foundation for future empowerment.

The aim of the FSP, therefore, is not only to commemorate the foot soldiers of the past, but also—and perhaps more importantly—to learn from them and carry their legacy forward. As the beneficiaries of their courageous actions, this generation bears the responsibility of continuing their struggle for freedom and justice.