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The Making of Donald L. Hollowell: Foot Soldier for Equal Justice
Behind the Scenes with Co-Producers Michelle Estile (MSW 07') and Laurie Reyman (MSW 09')


Contact: Emily Williams

Posted Dec. 15, 2010

School of Social Work alumnae Michelle Estile (MSW '07) and Laurie Reyman (MSW '09) both received interesting assignments when they started the master's program. Their graduate assistantships were with Dean Maurice C. Daniels who asked them to help the Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies (FSP) with a documentary on Donald L. Hollowell, the leading civil rights lawyer in Georgia in the 1950s and 1960s and chief architect of the legal work that led to the desegregation of the University of Georgia.

"I got the title of producer and I love it when people ask what that means because I'm still a bit confused," Estile joked.

Estile and Reyman spent countless hours in libraries and archives researching leads and collecting archival photographs, footage and visuals to help tell Hollowell's story.

"I dug around in some of the research done from the other [FSP] documentaries and then branched out from there. It was everything from the Peabody archives at the University to other universities in the state," Estile said.

The research was eye-opening for both students. "Looking at old footage of the [Ku Klux Klan] in downtown Atlanta or the Klan in Athens, Georgia—there was a riot on campus when Hollowell, Holmes and Hunter came to UGA—it makes it much more vivid, much more real, much more personal," Estile said.

"I learned about the Civil Rights movement in Georgia and the South. Not being from the South, I didn't know very much about it," said Reyman, who grew up in Zimbabwe. "In the fight for social justice, it is nothing but encouraging to see where we were and how far we've come."

Piece by piece the documentary came together over the span of their 2-year degree programs, Estile in '05-'07 and Reyman '07-'09. Estile described those years as a juggling act, especially considering that they also had to complete an internship and their other course work and projects as well. "Despite the juggling, it was a great honor to be involved in the project," Estile added.

"The FSP, in large measure, owes the completion of the documentary to the extraordinary research that Laurie and Michelle contributed to the project," said Daniels.

Selected for their strong research and social work skills as well as their deep commitment to social justice and appreciation for history, the pair did not disappoint. "My overall evaluation of their work would be superior with respect to both the energy they brought to the project and their exceptional research as well as their desire to do their very best to make the project a success," Daniels said.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for the FSP faculty to work with the two of them because they consistently went beyond the call of duty in exploring archival sources that added to the richness of the documentary. Laurie and Michelle's scholarly contributions helped to broaden the scope of the research," he added.

Daniels was inspired to make a documentary on Hollowell shortly after interviewing him in 1994. "At the time, Mr. Hollowell actually encouraged me to do a project on Horace Ward," he said. "Mr. Hollowell was a very humble man who, in many ways, discouraged any focus or attention on his own achievements and contributions."

Daniels worked with Derrick Alridge, director of the Institute for African American Studies and professor in the College of Education, on bringing the story of Hollowell's social activism and civil rights work to a new generation. After interviewing Hollowell and his wife Louise, Hollowell's law partners, and other key activists in the civil rights movement, Daniels and Alridge developed a historical overview of the story they wanted to tell. The research process included collaborating with a wide spectrum of scholars across disciplines to chronicle Hollowell's contributions to the cause of social justice. The film was narrated by Charlayne Hunter-Gault , a Peabody and Emmy award winning journalist and, with Hollowell's assistance, one of the first African Americans to enroll at UGA. From start to finish the documentary took 6 years to complete.

While working on the documentary, the School of Social Work developed a proposal for the establishment of a professorship at the School to be named in honor of Hollowell, who died of heart failure in 2004. The Donald L. Hollowell Distinguished Professorship of Social Justice and Civil Rights Studies is the first distinguished professorship named for an African American at UGA. Fund raising efforts were concluded at the premiere screening of Donald L. Hollowell: Foot Soldier for Equal Justice and Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., chair of the Hollowell Endowment Committee, announced at the premiere that the professorship was fully endowed.

"It was an awe inspiring experience," Daniels recalled. "First of all because we had such broad support and of course that support came in large measure because, I think, individuals appreciated the great debt that our society owes to a man like Donald Hollowell who literally dedicated his full life to fighting for the cause of social justice, often at risk to his personal safety and the safety of his family."

The premiere was held at the Woodruff Fine Arts Center in Atlanta on April 15, 2010. Estile introduced the film without her co-producer who was in Liberia. "The biggest thrill was seeing Mrs. Hollowell at the end of the night being honored. You could tell she was just so proud," Estile said. "To think of her, all those years of being supportive of him when he was putting himself at risk with these dangerous cases and doing all these things—it was good to see her husband be recognized that way. I think that was one of my favorite moments."

The documentary viewing was followed by a panel discussion featuring Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Mary Frances Early, the first African American UGA graduate; Federal Judge Horace T. Ward, a member of the legal team that sought to desegregate UGA; and moderator, Judge Glenda Hatchett, star of the television courtroom series Judge Hatchett. Actress Jasmine Guy was the special guest host.

Reyman was disappointed to miss the premiere but she had already begun her position as project officer with the Carter Center in Liberia. "I am very proud and feel very privileged to have been involved in the making of this documentary," she said. "I finally got to see the finished version just a few nights ago. The story that it tells is amazing and inspirational. Although I don't ever see myself creating documentaries professionally, it opened my eyes to a profession I knew nothing about and I'm proud to have it on my C.V."

Estile now works for Family Counseling Service, Inc., in Athens. She is the first in her family to go to college and to get an advanced degree. She grew up on a tomato farm in Southeast Arkansas and moved to Georgia in 1994. "Working on this project made me more mindful of social justice because that's what, specifically, Hollowell's work was about," she said. "I hope it makes me a more sensitive counselor to what people are going through."

The documentary was televised on Georgia Public Broadcasting on April 18 and July 11, 2010 and will be featured at the 50th anniversary celebration of the desegregation of the University of Georgia. The premiere campus screening will be held in Masters Hall at 8 p.m. on January 10, 2011.

Special Thanks: In addition to Estile and Reyman, other social work students were involved as well as graduate students from other disciplines. A cadre of help from professionals from across the Southeast also offered their expertise. It was truly a team effort to bring this project to fruition," Daniels noted. "In the course of researching and developing this documentary, we incurred many debts. A special debt of gratitude is owed to Cheryl D. Dozier, associate professor of social work and chief diversity officer at UGA; Janice Reaves, director of marketing and community relations at the Georgia Department of Labor; Valerie White, assistant professor in writing and editing at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University; Charles Duncan, professor of English at Clark Atlanta University; Carrin E. Daniels, Spanish teacher in Douglas County Schools; Terry Singleton, executive producer at Fulton County Government Television; Stephen Bridges, editor at the Center for Teaching and Learning at UGA; and Craig Breaden and Jill Severn from the UGA Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. The FSP team did an awesome job in chronicling the historic achievements of Donald Hollowell and developing this civil rights documentary for public television. –Maurice C. Daniels