Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Banished" documentary shown on Howard University Television


The documentary “Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America” (2007, from Working Films and the Center for Investigative Reporting, dir. Marco Williams, 87 min) appeared in the AFI Silver documentary film festival in June 2007, and I missed it because of a scheduling conflict. Howard University television showed it in Washington DC tonight.

The documentary traces “purges” in three areas. The first is Forsyth County, Georgia, NE of Atlanta. I believe I flew over it in 1998 in the fall on a trip to Atlanta. The countryside is plateau-like, in the Appalachian foothills. The county is still said to be one of the "white-ist" in Georgia, and this seems to stem from a 1912 incident when African Americans were driven out of the county with violence. In succeeding generations their legal claims to their land were lost. The film shows a 1987 march where African Americans tried to return, and sometimes met Confederate flags. The film then traces the legal doctrine of “adverse possession” that is used to defend land titles today, and considers the question of reparations. I wondered if land title companies got involved.

The second portion dealt with Pierce City, MO, in the Ozarks, between Joplin and Springfield. There had been a “purge” in 1901. Aggressive newspaper reporting in 1991 and then recently uncovered the extent of the problem. I visited the area in 1983 when I lived in Dallas. African Americans had not been able to visit the graves of ancestors and some had been lost, and there were questions about exhumations.

The third portion dealt with Harrisonville, AK, in the Ozarks, east of Fayatteville. I believe I was in the area in 1981. The town presents itself as one of the country’s most desirable, filled with retirement communities offering a “four seasons climate.” There were “purges” in 1905 and 1909. The local churches were trying to achieve a climate of healing with ceremonies, services, and public foot washings.

The film should not be confused with the thriller film “Banished” directed by Omid Shabkhiz.

Related posting: CNN: Judgment in Jena, here.

The visitor should view the project for the film “American Lynching” at this site.

I assisted with a filming session in the Capitol on June 13, 2005 when the Senate passed a non-binding resolution apologizing for not doing more about lynching from the Civil War to the 1960s, with George Allen (R-VA), John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and victim James Cameron. A clip that I took is here (also 1, 3, 4). The material in the film will deal with the same subject matter.

Visitors will want to check out "Rosewood" (1997, Warner Bros., dir. John Singleton) about the burning of an all black town in Florida in 1923.

Another related film is the PBS “American Experience” “Fatal Flood” about the 1927 Mississippi River flood and the treatment of African Americans displaced by Leroy Percy and son Will.

Also check out “Home of the Brave” (2004, HVE, dir. Paola di Florio, narrated by Stockard Channing) about the assassination of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo near the Selma, AL march in 1965. (No connection to an MGM film by the same name about returning veterans from Iraq.)

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