Joan Trumpuaer Mulholland and her son, director Loki Mulholland, have come to Iowa City to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Freedom Rides, the bus trips across the southern United States to protest the segregation of public transportation.
Freedom Rider and civil rights activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and her son, director Loki Mulholland, came to Iowa City to visit England on Wednesday night to share Loki’s film about his mother’s story, titled, An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, as well as having a conversation about racial injustice and activism with those in attendance.
The event was held in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides, a series of protests that included bus rides, sit-ins and toilet breaks in white-only areas of Southern buses and bus stations to protest against segregation of facilities. It was also a move to test a recent Supreme Court ruling that public transport segregation was unconstitutional.
The screening was followed by a discussion between Joan and Loki, moderated by writer and speaker Abena Imhotep Sankofa.
Joan has been an activist throughout her life. Not only was she a Freedom Rider, but she also attended many other famous marches and demonstrations, such as the March on Washington and the Selma March in Montgomery. She continues to advocate for positive change with her foundation, the Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation, which aims to “end racism through education,” she said.
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Loki also works as an activist through cinema. He has directed other films on race and racial injustice, including Black, White & Us and After Selma. Loki said he felt like the movies were his way of broadening the conversation about race.
“I was once asked, ‘Would you have sat at the lunch counters? “I don’t have to, because my mom did,” Loki said. “I use art and film to do what I can do to advance the cause. I use the film as a way to tell a single story from different angles.
Loki said he felt a call to action on advocacy. He often spoke of the people whose stories he had learned through his work and whom he had had the opportunity as a filmmaker to bring them to light.
“I have the ability and the responsibility to make voices heard that have never been heard,” he said.
Loki and Joan said they are working together to advance the cause of racial equality, using their white privilege to include a wider audience in the racial conversation. As whites, they speak to other whites more when they talk about race, Loki said.
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“The fact that we are white means that we can speak to an audience that might not otherwise listen, due to our privilege,” he said.
Loki said their privilege also facilitates conversations about racial inequalities in schools.
“My mother is a Trojan horse. She looks like a lot of teachers, who are also mostly white women. Because she looks like them, it makes the conversation about racial injustice easier to have in an educational space, ”Loki said. “Her story helps educators develop the stories told in schools about race and helps rewrite history.”
Joan and Loki’s ultimate goal is to end racism through difficult conversations, artistic expression, and giving a voice to the voiceless. They said they came to Iowa City to remind the public not only of how far the United States has come as an anti-racism society, but also how far there is yet to be traveled.
“Every voice counts,” Joan said.