UCF movie tells story of Orlando highschool bands breaking boundaries in the course of the civil rights motion

“Marching Forward” is the UCF film that tells the story of two Orlando High School band leaders and their unique moment during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

James “Chief” Wilson was the band director at Jones High School for more than 5 decades – which was separated in 1964.

“In 1964 Chief could say, ‘Hey! We have this idea. Wouldn’t that be great for Orlando? “What Chief at Jones and the other teachers and administrators at Jones have done represents this everyday activism,” said Robert Cassanello, associate professor in the Department of History at UCF.

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The documentary features Wilson’s band and the all-white band at Edgewater High School, directed by Delbert Kieffner.

“(Wilson) came to Jones High School with the intention of breaking down barriers and creating better understanding between whites and blacks in Orlando,” said Cassanello, who co-led the project with colleague Prof. Lisa Mills of the Nicholson School of Communication and media.

From 2016 to 2021, the 60-minute film was produced by around 25 UCF Honors College students, all from different backgrounds and schools.

“I think we want audiences to take away from this movie the importance of an ordinary citizen being able to make a difference when it comes to diversity, inclusivity and the right thing in general,” said Mills.

Behind the scenes of Marching Forward during production at Edgewater High School. (Image: Nicholson School of Communication and Media / UCF) (WKMG 2021)

Marching Forward tells the story of how Wilson and Keiffner teamed up so both bands could perform at the New York World Fair in 1964.


“Edgewater received the invitation first, and there was a feeling, not only in the African American community but also in significant parts of the Orlando white community, that Jones was sort of quote after quote, a representative band of Orlando,” said Cassanello. “Chief and Del Keiffner, the band director at Edgewater, who had already been invited, stood up for the city council, the mayor, that both bands would leave, and they agreed.”

It was a moment that paved the way for change in racial relations and set a positive example at a time when other cities were facing violent protests. It made the city beautiful for Walt Disney too.

Jones High School students watch the Jones High School students watch the documentary Marching Forward. (Photo credit: Nicholson School of Communication and Media / UCF) (UCF 2021)

“The World’s Fair as shown in the film was a testing ground for the Walt Disney Company,” said Mills. “At that particular time in the same year, Walt Disney was making trips to Florida to fly over Florida, and he had identified Orlando as a good place for a theme park.”


The film not only shows this impressive moment from 1964, but also illuminates the decades-long friendship between Wilson and Keiffner and the common factor that bound them.

“In this case, Del Kieffner and James W. Wilson wanted to do the best for their students, whatever came first on their mind, and the circumstances of the segregation at the time did not seem to bother them, they wanted what was right for them students and they were ready to take a risk and stand up for them, ”said Mills.

To see the film online, visit: https://www.pbs.org/video/marching-forward-za2whz/

Information about how the film was shot and the awards it received can be found at https://www.marchingforwardfilm.org/

Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.

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