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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 17 2011

Davies possible subject of film

Fargo’s Video Arts Studios hopes to tie the dedication of Davies High School this summer into a documentary celebrating one of the watershed events in ending segregation in the South.

General Manager Art Phillips and Director of Marketing James Ferragut pitched to the Fargo School Board this past week the idea of filming the Davies dedication ceremonies as part of the documentary.

The film would focus on the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of students who had volunteered to be the first blacks to attend Little Rock Central High School in the fall of 1957. But it would also discuss Fargo Judge Ronald N. Davies, whose rulings made the school’s desegregation a reality.

“This is an incredible story,” Phillips said.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for Fargo,” Ferragut said. “The more we dug into it, the more we felt this needed to be documented.

Davies High will be the city’s third public high school.

Three members of the Little Rock Nine are interested in attending the dedication, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has agreed to attend, organizers said.

Lowell Wolff, assistant to the superintendent for the School District, contacted Phillips over the holidays about documenting the dedication, but after talking, all agreed it could be a bigger project.

“It’s an attractive idea, but it takes a little bit of getting used to. It’s kind of like taking a drink from a fire hydrant,” Wolff said.

Ferragut vows the project won’t require cash from the district or city. Instead, Video Arts may seek grants or ask if the Discovery or History channel would fund it.

Dinah Goldenberg, chairwoman of the School Board’s communications committee, said no concrete decisions have been made about the dedication.

Dedication plans will be discussed at communications committee meetings Friday and the first three Fridays in February, she said. Plans for the dedication will be determined by the School District and its stakeholders and not influenced by filming, Goldenberg said.

Nonetheless, she said the offer is an exciting opportunity to create a historical record of Davies’ work and “a great education piece, not only for our district, but for the wider community” and beyond.

The integration of Little Rock High School is considered one of the most important events of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Little Rock Nine were drawn from a larger pool of black students eligible to attend Central High. They agreed to be the first blacks to attend the school.

Davies, who was named to the federal bench in Fargo in 1955, was temporarily assigned to the U.S. District Court in eastern Arkansas by President Dwight Eisenhower in August 1957.

Davies overturned an injunction blocking integration of Central High School and issued an order against interfering with integration. He later ruled that Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus unlawfully used the National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school.

With angry mobs threatening the safety of the black students and family and friends accompanying them, Eisenhower ordered troops of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort them to school. They stayed the full school year.

Davies sat on the federal district court in Fargo for 30 years. He died in 1996.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583