Arts and Culture

Life-long civil rights activist Anne Braden’s life and work are the subject of a new documentary from Appalshop. “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot” will premiere at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage Sunday at 3 p.m.

Braden, who died in 2006, lived most of her adult life in Louisville, where she and her husband Carl Braden were active in the civil rights and social justice movements. Braden is best known for her involvement in the Wade Case, a 1954 housing integration plan that led to the Bradens being charged with sedition. Carl Braden spent eight months in prison before the Supreme Court invalidated state sedition laws and the remainder of the charges were dropped. Her 1958 memoir of the Wade Case, “The Wall Between,” was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Anne Lewis and Mimi Pickering began filming the documentary in 2004, using Braden’s work as a lens to examine the ideas that fueled her passion for social justice. They continued after the Louisville activist’s death in 2006, using archival footage and interviews with her colleagues in the civil rights and anti-racism movements.

Braden’s early anti-racism work was charged with controversy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praised her as “eloquent and prophetic” in his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Later, Braden would be honored by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, who bestowed the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty on Braden in 1989. Pickering says Braden received such honors reluctantly.

“She said she was beginning to worry that she wasn’t effective anymore because people were starting to applaud her rather than shun her,” says Pickering.

Braden continued to dedicate her life to civil rights, even after overt segregation practices were outlawed, advocating for victims of violence, school busing and fair housing. Braden lectured at the University of Louisville, where the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research opened in 2007.

“She said she really felt like the work the civil rights movement did broke what was basically a police state in the South, but she felt strongly that racism was still very prevalent in our society and was systematic,” says Pickering. “Even though people can eat where they want and those kinds of things, there are still many issues underlying our society and the way it functions.” 

Pickering will answer questions about the film and Braden’s work and life after the screening. Guests who knew and worked with Braden will also be invited to speak. The event is free and open to the public.