Quinnipiac celebrates Black History Month with documentary screening

Robert Grant

You have probably heard of Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, but the work of Constance Baker Motley might be unfamiliar.

Michael Calia, director of the Ed McMahon Communications Center, had not heard of Motley either when he was asked to do a documentary on her life. “Justice is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley,” produced and directed by Calia, premiered on Thursday evening in Buckman Theater in an effort to educate people on her life.

“The hope is that this piece will raise awareness and tell her story,” Calia said. “It’s more of an educational piece than a documentary in that sense.”

Motley was a lawyer, judge and state senator born in New Haven. She made the best of what was given to her and attended New York University and Columbia University School of Law despite a shortage in money.

Marilyn Ford, professor of law, and her son Gary were determined to give Motley the recognition they thought she deserved. In September of 2009, the School of Law co-sponsored a symposium with the Yale Law School, “The Life of Constance Baker Motley: Civil Rights Lawyer and Federal Judge,” which included a 20-minute documentary on Motley. After that, Ford and Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, asked Calia to make a one-hour documentary.

“Judge Motley was a shining example of all that is right in this country, while trying to right some of our most egregious wrongs: segregation and discrimination,” Bushnell said.

Quinnipiac alum Susan Bailey wrote the documentary, narrated by Juan Williams, a political analyst for Fox News. It included primary source interviews with people who worked with or knew Motley including an interview with former President Bill Clinton.

“I was really able to get a sense of what an exceptional woman she was,” Calia said. “Like with all documentaries, I went through a wonderful educational process.

“We hope that this piece will get around to other outlets to raise awareness. It’s important for people to understand the fighting for fairness and equality that took place.”

Connecticut Public Television picked up the documentary, but an air date has not been announced.