Hollywood takes notice of Ray Arsenault's 'Freedom Riders'





In August 1963, when Raymond Arsenault was 15, his family was staying in a hotel during a move to Florida. • At the swimming pool, young Arsenault met some people who were on the way to what they told the teen would be a historic event the next day: the March on Washington for civil rights.

He was fired with the desire to witness it himself. "I told my family, 'We can't drive to Florida tomorrow,' " Arsenault says. "In the Hollywood version, we wouldn't have."

They did, but Arsenault may get a Hollywood version after all. More than four decades later, he's a distinguished historian whose two recent books about landmark events of the civil rights movement are taking unusual turns in the spotlight. Unusual, that is, for history texts.

His new book, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America, will have a high-profile debut on April 12 as part of a concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, commemorating the 70th anniversary of Anderson's historic performance there. His 2006 book, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press), is the source for a documentary, now in production, that will be part of the PBS American Experience series.

And here's the Hollywood part: Arsenault just signed contracts awarding feature film rights for that book to esteemed screenwriter William Broyles (Apollo 13, Flags of Our Fathers).

"It's been amazing," he says.



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