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Hyland earns national grant to produce documentary on civil rights case

by Chuck Gordon

Thanks to a federal grant administered by the American Historical Association, associate history professor Dr. Steven Hyland will spend next semester researching and producing an audio documentary on a landmark civil-rights case in California.

Hyland and three colleagues from the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS) will each take the lead on a multipart documentary about a historical event marking an anniversary in 2022. Hyland will research Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County, a 1947 case that led to the desegregation of public schools in California, and will produce a five- or six-part documentary about it.

“One reason it’s very important is that with the growing Latino population in this country, we need to more fully recognize their role in the civil rights struggle, and in this case the desegregation of schools,” he says. “The Mendez decision marked the first time a federal court determined that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Several of the arguments that carried the day in California were developed by NAACP lawyers, led by a young Thurgood Marshall, and they would do so again when Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court seven years later.”

Hyland’s documentary is one of four that will constitute “For the People: Portable Latin American Histories.” Other topics being explored are the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bolivia’s 1952 revolution and the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. The project is being funded with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Through his role as secretary-treasurer of SECOLAS for the past eight years, Hyland has embraced new media as a means of educating students and the general public. He has co-hosted Historias, a podcast about Latin American history and politics, for four years.

During Covid, he says, Historias has been used more and more in classrooms, and he views “For the People” as a vehicle to be used by professors and teachers as well – possibly even more so. Historias is generally a conversation with an author or researcher about a specific topic, whereas the audio documentaries will employ more storytelling elements.

“With the spread you can get with new media, I think there’s great opportunity,” Hyland says. “This is why we’re going to give it a go, to tell these important stories, to reach broader audiences, and hopefully to have it integrated into the classroom.”

Others working on “For the People” are Hyland’s fellow Historias co-hosts Dr. Carlos Dimas of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Dr. Carmen Soliz of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Dr. Dustin Walcher of Southern Oregon University.

The $51,000 grant will provide each of them with time away from the classroom this fall to complete the project. Hyland also hopes that there will be additional resources available to employ Wingate students to help research, write and edit his part of the project.

“I’m excited, as you can imagine,” Hyland says, adding that Dr. Carrie Hoefferle, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Provost Jeff Frederick have given him time this fall to complete the project. “They’re very excited for me. They recognize the wow factor, the nature of the award that my group won.”

Learn more about Wingate’s History Degree Program.

March 31, 2022