New film documents town’s civil rights history

New film documents town’s civil rights history
Hazel Dukes in Mineola in 1968. (Photo courtesy of Alan Ginsburg)

In the 1960s, Hazel Dukes, a black woman, applied for an apartment in a Roslyn Heights complex. She was told it was unavailable, Dukes said in a new documentary.

When Dukes told a white friend about her experience, that friend applied for an apartment and was offered three different spaces. So Dukes filed suit, eventually won and moved in.

Dukes’ story is just one illuminated in a film premiering in Manhasset this week about the civil rights era in the Town of North Hempstead.

“Defining Moments: The Civil Rights Movement in North Hempstead” was funded by a federal grant, and features interviews with activists who fought segregation on Long Island along with archival footage and insight from a historian.

Segregation on Long Island during that period was largely de facto, historian Alan J. Singer said in the film. Rather than dictated by law, segregation manifested through practices in local communities and institutions, largely surfacing as housing and educational discrimination.

Subjects in the film discuss topics such as redlining, or geographically limiting African-Americans to certain neighborhoods, and the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities here during the civil rights era.

“What this documentary will hopefully do is shed a light that sometimes just because by law there may not be as much racial discrimination … that doesn’t mean that doesn’t exist today,” said the film’s director, Alan Ginsberg. “By looking at this documentary, my only hope is for you to question things.”

The film’s production began as a project to document an oral history of residents who were involved in the civil rights movement in the town.

Rabbis and pastors spoke about interfaith efforts to fight racism and of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches in the town.

Activists spoke of their consistent attendance and vocal advocacy at school and community board meetings.

“We realized these stories were just so amazing, and each person could just have their own hour’s show because they’re that inspirational,” Ginsberg said.

So the production team decided to compile it all into a documentary. It is the longest one Ginsberg has ever directed, he said.

“They literally took hours and hours and hours of interview,” Carole Trottere, the film’s producer and the town’s communications director, said. “It really totaled probably 50 hours.”

Each subject’s interview will soon be publicly available as its own entity, Trottere said.

But combined, the interviews tell a story of subtle but powerful discrimination in North Hempstead and the faces behind the fight against it.

“It’s just a reminder that in light of the events that have taken place over the last few years that we can’t be complacent and think that our work is done because there’s still much to do,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth.

The film premieres Thursday at the Manhasset Bow Tie Theater to an already sold-out crowd. It will have a second screening Feb. 7 at Westbury’s Yes We Can Community Center.

“It’s important to keep up the fight,” Bernice Sims, one of the film’s subjects, said in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “It’s important to remember what has happened in the past, not live in the past, but remember what has happened so we can move forward.”

For information about upcoming screenings of “Defining Moments” and to reserve tickets, visit

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