The epic story of Freedom, Inc. - Kansas City's pioneering African American political organization - comes to life in Freedom Is Now, filmmaker Emiel Cleaver's new documentary.
The one-hour film will have its premiere on February 24, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. in the Truman Forum of the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
As the son of former Mayor (and now U.S. Rep.) Emanuel Cleaver II, Emiel Cleaver grew up attending Freedom, Inc. events.
"I'd go to their meetings, the rallies. For my family, that was normal," Cleaver recalls. "But researching the film I learned a lot. I had assumed that Freedom, Inc. was always successful. So it was a real education discovering how the group was started and the obstacles that had to be overcome to be successful."
In its heyday, Freedom, Inc. gained a reputation for shaking up the system, fracturing white-controlled political machines in the black community, and fighting for public accommodations. It was through Freedom that many African Americans first got involved in the political process.
To make the film Cleaver interviewed surviving founders of Freedom, Inc. and gathered archival images, especially news photos from the early years (the organization was founded in 1961).
Finding old news footage of Freedom's leaders and events proved problematical, Cleaver said. "The TV stations didn't keep that footage. Videotape was so expensive that after running a story they taped over it."
Cleaver hopes his film will give viewers an appreciation of the local fight for Civil Rights.
"It's not just black history. It's Kansas City history. And it's important to know about the struggles of people who aren't in the history books who sacrificed to pave the way for young people today...people who may not know what Freedom, Inc. was all about."
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP online  or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the garage adjacent to the Plaza Branch.
Major funding for programs at the Kansas City Public Library is provided by a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.