Famous Students Reflect on Case Civil Rights Event Research Proved an Invaluable Lesson for Stevenson Girls

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Riopell Daily Herald Staff Writer

Editors note: This is part of a weeklong series of stories looking some of Lake County's top newsmakers in 2005.

National TV camera crews no longer pull them out of their high school classes.

Reporters hound them less often about their class projects.

They've run out of invitations to eat breakfast with members of Congress.

But Stevenson High School seniors Allison Nichols, Brittany Saltiel and Sarah Siegel will never forget the busy schedules they juggled after making an influential documentary for a school project.

For most of their high school tenures the students and their teacher Barry Bradford worked on a documentary that eventually brought added attention to the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, the same case dramatized in the 1988 film "Mississippi Burning."

The project garnered national media attention as it helped lead to the June 21 manslaughter conviction of Edgar Ray Killen.

Now, the students say, they know they can use practical skills they learned at the Lincolnshire school to make a difference.

"That's really the whole point of school," Siegel said.

She's concerned about all the media attention the group received, wondering if it overshadowed the longer-term efforts that civil rights workers in Mississippi had made for years.

Saltiel says even if it did, they were able to use the exposure to bring more attention to the case.

Bradford said the girls underestimate their role. Their project included an exclusive interview with Killen, something authorities later said helped lead to his indictment.

"All three of them are extremely modest and humble young women," he said.

Bradford said it might take the accumulation of years and perspective for the girls to truly understand what they had done.

But for now, the girls speak highly of the usable skills the project taught them. …