Lawson Wright wins National History Day for documentary


Courtesy of Lawson Wright

Annika Bhandari, Contributing Writer

For the fourth year since 2019, Lawson Wright (12) won first place last Monday in the New York State History Day (NYSHD) Competition for his documentary “Little Rock: A Frontier of the Global Cold War,” which examines the 1957 Little Rock Crisis in Arkansas through the lens of the Cold War. The competition is a branch of National History Day, a nonprofit organization that runs annual, global project-based contests for students in sixth through twelfth grade. Wright submitted his documentary in the “Senior Individual Documentary” category, where he placed second in the New York City History Day competition and then first in the NYSHD competition. Wright has advanced to the national level, where he hopes to win an award, he said. 

Wright’s documentary argues that exposing racism in the U.S. was central to the Soviet Union’s campaign throughout the Cold War, and that communists used the Little Rock Nine crisis to promote their own ideal model for society. The Little Rock crisis occurred after the US Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which stated that segregated schools were “inherently unequal.” Following the ruling, nine African-American students enrolled in the Little Rock Central High School, which prompted the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, to order the Arkansas National Guard to prevent them from entering the school. 

The racism in the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s discredited the nation’s claim that it prioritized equality, Wright said. “I hope that through the documentary, viewers understand how events relating to the civil rights movements, such as Little Rock, were not just a phenomenon in America but also had an international significance.” Through the documentary, Wright demonstrates how many acts relating to the civil rights movement were simply performative, intended to improve the United States’ reputation without having a significant impact on the lives of most African Americans.

The topic was a natural choice for Wright because he is enrolled in both Global Cold War History and Contemporary U.S. History, he said. “I thought that this was a great topic that combined many interests and fit within the context of the two classes,” he said.

Upper Division (UD) history teacher Melissa Morales has helped Wright create his documentaries since his freshman year. “Lawson’s documentaries are special because he is deeply interested in the subjects that he researches,” she said. “He puts a lot of passion into the projects.”

Wright started the research process in October and finished earlier this year, he said. He began by finding secondary sources and later contacted archivists at multiple libraries to provide him with primary sources, he said. Wright also took advantage of the school’s databases, utilizing communist posters and video footage. After analyzing all the sources, Wright wrote a script and made a voice-over. Lastly, he compiled all the images and media and edited them together, which only took a week. 

Ever since he first began making documentaries in seventh grade, Wright has enjoyed it because documentaries can express elements of history that cannot be told through an essay, he said. “Seeing the violence in Little Rock is a really powerful image, and you can only convey that through a documentary,” he said.