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Free event to feature civil rights discussion, movie screening at Tennessee Theatre

March 26, 2018

The Tennessee Theatre, Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Knoxville Area Urban League have partnered to host a free event Sunday, April 15, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 55th anniversary of the desegregation of the Tennessee Theatre.

A still from the 1962 three-time Oscar-winning film “To Kill a Mockingbird” shows characters Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson sitting in the courtroom.

Titled “What Real Courage Is,” the program will include a civil rights panel discussion and screening of the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the historic theatre on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.

The panel will explore the environment of Knoxville in the mid-1960s when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was being shown in theaters and also will cover perspectives and insights from today’s African American youth in the community.

“In this iconic film, Atticus Finch references seeing ‘what real courage is,’” said Rev. Reneé Kesler, president and CEO of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. “The theme resonated with us because it reflects Dr. King’s life and dedication to others, the bravery and selflessness of his fellow civil rights protestors here in Knoxville and the challenge facing many young people today. It’s important that we reference African American history and culture – and the experiences of our neighbors here in Knoxville – to inform how we continue to move forward today in honoring Dr. King’s legacy.”

Featured panelists will include:

  • Bob Booker, civil rights activist, former Knoxville City Councilman and state legislator and nonprofit director
  • Katy Jeffers, a then-freshman at East High School when it was integrated in 1964
  • Quineka Moten, director of education and youth services at the Knoxville Area Urban League

“The impact of Dr. King lives on, and the messages of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ resonate still today,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “As organizations including the Urban League and our friends and partners serve African Americans, other minorities and the disadvantaged in our community, it’s imperative that we continue to promote and enable these conversations. We must continue to shine a light on the need for equity, justice and equal opportunity to be afforded to every member of our community.”

Nichols will moderate the panel. Doors open at 2:30 p.m., and the panel discussion will begin at 3 p.m. The film screening will begin immediately following the panel. The 1962 three-time Oscar-winning film “To Kill a Mockingbird” starred Gregory Peck, who received the Oscar for best actor in a leading role for his portrayal of lawyer Atticus Finch, the character made famous by author Harper Lee.

“We feel it’s important to remind the community of all aspects of the Tennessee Theatre’s history,” said Becky Hancock, executive director of the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation. “‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was being screened at the Tennessee Theatre during the time of civil rights demonstrations against the theatre’s practice of segregation. This panel discussion offers an opportunity to learn about the past, while viewing it through today’s lens.

“The theatre is grateful for the partnership with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Knoxville Area Urban League to present this event and to our esteemed panelists for their insight. We hope the public will take advantage of this free opportunity for meaningful dialogue and reflection, as well as a classic movie screening.”

For more information about the Tennessee Theatre, visit

About the Beck Cultural Exchange Center
Beck is the place “Where African American History & Culture Are Preserved,” and Beck is becoming the place “Where African American History is Transformed.” Beck was established in 1975 with a mission that has remained unchanged. Beck is as an African American teaching and learning museum and cultural center that serves as a State of Tennessee designated primary repository of black history and culture in the city of Knoxville and throughout East Tennessee. Absent of Beck, there is no single organization in the region that provides this invaluable service. For over 40 years, Beck has been entrusted with an extensive collection of historical archives deeming it Knoxville’s storehouse of regional African American History and Culture. For more information, visit

About the Knoxville Area Urban League
Since 1968, the Knoxville Area Urban League has assisted disadvantaged people attain social and economic stability and self-sufficiency through direct services and advocacy. The League works to provide a skilled and diverse workforce; to increase homeownership; to support economic and small business development, and to enhance education efforts for our youth. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a United Way partner agency and affiliate of the National Urban League. The League’s work and results are evident in the lives of the over 8,000 people it impacts each year. For more information, call 865-524-5511 or visit

About the Tennessee Theatre
Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 as a movie palace. The Tennessee Theatre is the Official State Theatre of Tennessee and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Theatre is the region’s leading performing arts facility with advanced technology, staging and lighting that draws top entertainment to the Knoxville area. The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit organization tasked with maintaining and preserving the historic theater and ensuring diverse arts and cultural entertainment remains in downtown Knoxville. For more information, visit