Woman behind 'An Ordinary Hero' inspires students across the state

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Mug shot of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Records collection in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Photo provided by KBYU Eleven

Just a few months ago, proud Southerner Joan Trumpauer Mulholland returned to her alma mater, Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., a historically all-black school.

Mulholland and her son, Lehi resident and filmmaker Loki Mulholland, were on location filming a documentary titled "An Ordinary Hero," which features the life and heroism of one ordinary woman who risked everything to stand up for what she believed in: equality.

Now, Joan and Loki are traveling throughout Utah, sharing the story of one woman's journey of courage.

Recently, the Mulhollands attended a Sept. 10 screening and reception of their February-release documentary at Brigham Young University. There was a 30-minute screening of the film, followed by a question-and-answer panel with Joan and Loki.

Diena Simmons, station manager for KBYU-TV, said there were several reasons this film came to BYU.

"It's a very moving film. It told a piece of the civil rights story that a lot of us hadn't heard. And it was made by a local filmmaker."

Simmons said the station, which will air "An Ordinary Hero" on Sept. 15 at 9 p.m. and again on Sept. 23 at 8 p.m., likes to encourage the art and storytelling of all local filmmakers.

"(Loki) made a beautiful film about something that is universally important. Something that's just as important as it was 50 years ago."

And it was with an air of reverence that a nearly full house viewed the inspiring events that defined Joan's early life.

The year was 1960, and the civil rights movement was generating steam. But for 19-year-old Joan, the decision to join the fight for equal rights was made years before.

As a 10-year-old girl in Sunday School, Joan memorized Bible verses that taught her a golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Another factor was an internalization of the Declaration of Independence, which Joan was required to memorize in school.

"'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,'" she quoted. "You take that literally. As a Christian or as an American, you are an absolute hypocrite if you are empowering segregation."

Joan said this realization came to her in grade school. That, combined with a desire as a Southerner to make her beloved South the best it could be, Joan decided to give her all to make a change.

"I'll join the group, because it really takes a group to make a change," she said.

While attending Duke University in Durham, N.C., Joan became involved in early sit-in protests. She later dropped out of Duke to dedicate her time more fully to the movement.

After participating in the first Freedom Ride in 1961, Joan joined her friends in Mississippi and continued the Freedom Rides. The group was later arrested, landing Joan two months in prison.

Joan later enrolled at Tougaloo College and became the first white woman accepted at an all-black college.

During the infamous sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in 1963, she and other activists endured the taunting of the crowd, which swelled in intensity and began dumping ice cream and other condiments onto the protesters.

Joan recalls in the documentary that she didn't think she and her friends would make it out of that demonstration alive. Yet, she remained strong.

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