Move When the Spirit Says Move

The Legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton

Dorothy Foreman Cotton was a bold, highly effective and important civil rights leader. Throughout her long life she organized, she spoke out, she challenged the status quo, she sang powerful freedom songs. Most importantly, she ran a Citizenship Eduction Program that moved thousands of people from a mindset of "victim" to that of a fully-engaged citizen in the Jim Crow south. She was the only woman on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Executive Staff, yet her contributions have largely gone unrecognized. 

PhotoSynthesis Productions' new documentary MOVE WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS MOVE will honor Dr. Cotton and build on her life’s work of creating the nation of freedom and democracy that we are struggling to become. After a pause in production due to the COVID pandemic, we are raising funds to complete this powerful documentary.

Thanks to all who attended  the screening and discussion of THERE'S YOUR READY GIRL on April 14, 2021.  A recording is available at this link:

THERE'S YOUR READY GIRL won First Place Documentary at the New York Women in Film and Television Online Shorts Festival this spring.

For more information, please visit:

More videos, including the award-winning THERE'S YOUR READY GIRL, an 11-minute excerpt of MOVE WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS MOVE produced during the pandemic can be viewed at

Statement from the Dorothy Cotton Institute

We at the Dorothy Cotton Institute are excited to partner with PhotoSynthesis Productions (PSP), an Ithaca-based film company, to produce a documentary that will be a tribute to the life and ongoing legacy of Dr. Dorothy Foreman Cotton, a civil rights icon of the Southern Freedom Movement. Dorothy Cotton served for eight years as Education Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was the only woman on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Executive Staff. The centerpiece of her leadership was the Citizenship Education Program (CEP), a popular-education intensive that moved thousands of people from a mindset of “victim” to that of a fully-engaged “citizen.”

The CEP equipped grassroots activists throughout the southern United States with a grounding in their constitutional rights and how to use the principles of nonviolent direct action. In a brutal context where racial segregation hatred, and the threat of terrorism were daily realities, CEP participants went on to risk their lives to register voters, organize communities, demonstrations, strikes & boycotts, run for office, and ultimately overturn Jim Crow laws. The CEP is a model for popular education & movement building that has empowered freedom struggles across the globe. The film will focus not only on Dorothy Cotton’s role with the CEP, but will also highlight several other unsung s/heroes of the movement whose names & contributions the public should know. Dorothy Cotton’s work on nonviolence, the power of freedom songs, and taking action did not end in the 60’s. The film will include interviews with her colleagues & friends, archival footage of her talks & workshops, and the impact of her remarkable life.

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