Introduction to the Film

On Labor Day weekend, 1957, the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Highlander had been founded by Myles Horton in 1932 as a "people's school for people's problems," dedicated to training "Southern rural and industrial leaders for participation in a democratic society."

At Highlander, students, selected by the people with whom they live and work, learn the importance of cooperation among all groups interested in the advancement of the South. Barriers are removed between Negro and white, farmer and city dweller. Through meeting and working together, in practice as well as in theory, these local leaders learn that unity is a basic step to the achievement of a democratic South....These organizations and groups with which the Highlander Folk School works, and to which it offers its educational services, include industrial and farm unions, cooperatives, religious and interracial groups. These groups, with roughly similar aims and purposes, offer a broad base through which the largest percentage of the people in the South can be reached.1

Luminaries of the labor and civil rights movements - including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, Pete Seeger, and Aubrey Williams - were invited to the anniversary of Highlander, which at the time was considered one of the few safe places for these leaders to gather.

Roy V. Harris, the most powerful backroom dealmaker in Georgia politics and deeply invested in Jim Crow and segregation, viewed the event as an unexpected opportunity for his Georgia Commission on Education, a publicly funded anti-integration agency. Learning of the event, and its participants, he dispatched photographer Ed Friend to gather evidence that Communists directed the Civil Rights movement.2 Friend, posing as a vacationing freelance photographer, was given free rein by Myles Horton to take all the pictures he liked. By chance Friend made the acquaintance of another uninvited guest, Abner Berry, a reporter for the communist paper The Daily Worker.

Friend's photographs were used in a Georgia Commission on Education broadside indicting Highlander as a "Communist Training School," where civil rights groups received "training under the watchful eye of Abner Berry of the Central Committee of the Communist Party." The broadside also noted that "both the day and night life ... were integrated in all respects."3 Myles Horton, nonplussed at the distortion regarding Berry's role at the event, freely and gladly owned up to the charge that the activities at his school were integrated.

I just know this was kind of an amusing situation... Friend was the one that did all the pictures... He did all kinds of pictures ... interracial dancing and interracial swimming and all the things that went on at Highlander all the time. He did a movie while he was there and that movie was used against us in an investigation. I tried to buy the movie. I thought it was a great movie. I thought I'd like to use it to promote Highlander. I had no objections to anything in it. It all looked good to me. It was exactly what we would do. [Laughs] All the things he took, we do. He thought they were terrible. We thought they were good.4

Horton's interpretation of "integrated in all things," however, was not shared by the Southern power structure, and in the wake of Friend's work for Roy V. Harris, Tennessee authorities would ultimately shut down the Highlander Folk School at Monteagle. With the spin placed on it by the Georgia Commission on Education, Friend's short, untitled, silent film from Highlander spoke volumes.

Edwin Hugo Friend, Sr. was born on October 1, 1912 in Fincastle, Virginia. He graduated from Tech High School in Atlanta, Georgia, and later attended Georgia State College. In the early 1940s, Friend served with the Army Air Corps 342nd Bomber Squadron. While in service, he discovered his photographic skills and applied them toward the war effort. Upon his return to the states, Friend worked for the Georgia State Game and Fish Commission as a conservation officer. During his travels in this position, he developed a fascination for wildlife photography. Friend also became very involved in Georgia politics. During the administrations of Governors Marvin Griffin, Herman Talmadge, Ernest Vandiver and Carl Sanders, he served as their official photographer. As a result of an automobile accident in 1962, he retired from his state job. Later in retirement, he traveled extensively and proudly proclaimed that he had visited every country in the world. He died on September 6, 1991.

Endnotes

  1. "Highlander Folk School," The New World Commentator, December 1949, 12; Myles Horton, "The Program at Highlander," The New World Commentator, December 1949, 14. [resume reading]
  2. "Interlude: Roy Harris and Myles Horton," in Howell Raines, My Soul is Rested, 395-96. [resume reading]
  3. "Labor Day Weekend at Communist Training School," broadside published by Georgia Commission on Education, 1957, Series I., Subseries A, Box 11 folder 7, S. Ernest Vandiver Collection, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia, Athens. [resume reading]
  4. Myles Horton quoted in Raines, 398. [resume reading]