Freedom's Front Line: Fayette County, Tennessee (2008)

tent cityAfrican American citizens of Fayette County, Tenn. line up to register to vote.


Fayette County, Tennessee

Traditionally a cotton-belt farming community during the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, Fayette County was thrust into the national and international spotlight when, in 1959, local African Americans attempted to register and vote. The 1960s ushered in a period of profound change in Fayette County as African Americans, and those sympathetic to their plight, stood up and challenged their second-class citizenship.

The Movement

John and Viola McFerren emerged as the leaders of that movement, providing sustained guidance and support to the movement's efforts. In 1959, the McFerrens and other African American activists created the organization, The Fayette County Civic and Welfare League, later renamed the Original Fayette County Civic and Welfare League, to further their civil rights agenda. The league entered the 1960s with an urgent civil rights agenda: to increase voter registration, elect responsible government officials, improve educational and employment opportunities for blacks, and to dismantle racial barriers for blacks in Fayette County. In an article published on October 12, 1969, The New York Times described the Fayette County Movement as the "longest sustained civil rights protest in the nation."

What happened when African Americans demanded the right to vote in Fayette County, Tennessee?

Production team

The Freedom's Front Line production team included Robert Hamburger, executive producer; Mark Lipman and David Villavert, directors and editor, respectively; Dillard Morrison, cinematography; and Daphene R. McFerren, film consultant.


In 2008, Freedom's Front Line received the Director's Choice Award at the Black Maria Film Festival, Newark New Jersey.


Support for this film was provided by the Civil Society Institute (Boston, MA); the Hooks Institute, Sara Lutz (New York, New York), and the Small Change Foundation (San Francisco, CA).