Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"The Black American Experience: Famous Human Rights Crusaders", important educational film; also more on Gode Davis and "American Lynching"

There is a company called TMW Educational Media  in Venice, CA (“on the beach”) that produces educational films for school systems, and there is one particular series of short films called “The Black American Experience”, a series name that seems related to a famous PBS public television American history series.
I reviewed a 2009 DVD from the company (through Netflix) called “Famous Human Rights Crusaders: Ida B. Wells, and Fannie Lou Hamer”.
Ida B. Wells was a journalist (1862-1931) who documented lynching starting in the late 19th Century, still during Reconstruction. She was fired from a paper in Philadelphia in 1891 for exposing abuses, and three of her friends were lynched.  The film says she had saved money to start her own paper.  She was also active in women’s suffrage.  The short film (14 min, 1993) is directed by Brian Stewart.
The film biography of Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) is longer (about 30 min, 1999), and is directed by Rex Barnett.  Hamer became a civil rights leader and voting rights activist in Mississippi in the early 1960s.  She eventually passed the “poll test” by proving she knew the state constitution in 1963.  The film documents the slaying of three civil rights volunteers, two of them white, in Mississippi in August 1964, an event well covered in the Washington papers and I remember it well. I was 21 at the time and going to GWU while “living at home” in Arlington, VA, in a relatively sheltered life. (Well, not exactly, but I cover that elsewhere.)  I saw the young men as heroes. 

Hamer organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to challenge the old establishment, even at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, where she spoke, before Lyndon Johnson’s unopposed nomination and landslide win.  Her activism certainly helped motivate LBJ to push the voting rights act.

Hamer also documents the abuses of sharecroppers by plantation owners, who often held tenant farmers in debt for the income they made from "rented land" and then evicted them, as happened to Hamer's family herself. The History Channel has a film."Sharecropping" 40 Acres and  Mule", link here (the inspiration for Spike Lee's trademark.) . 
I also looked at the “remnants” of a film project, “American Lynching”, by Gode Davis, who is now deceased.  On January 1, 2003 I actually visited Mr. Davis in his home in West Warwick, RI, and watched about fifteen minutes of interview footage for the film.  Later, in June 2005, Mr. Davis came to Washington DC and made some footage of an interview with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Va, Senator, George Allen, and Senator John Kerry,  I accompanied him in the Capitol for that day and made some footage. There was an interview of a man over 100 years old (James Cameron) who had survived a lynching in the 19th Century.  I had it saved on a harddrive that was lost in a crash in 2008, but I believe I should be able to recover it from an old videocam backup. (I do have some clips in the photo directory of my "doaskdotell.com" site labeled "lynching";  I'll try to get these into better shape,)   Davis had actually asked if he could stay in my home, but with mother still here then it was impossible, but I should be ready for something like that today if another such opportunity arose. 

See also my TV blog, Aug. 9, 2011. 
The estate of Gode Davis maintains his website., with a link to a 9-minute YouTube segment where he speaks.  Davis says “America is a great country but it has warts in its history.”  He says that in white society young men participated in lynching because they thought it raised their social standing under segregation; it was a lot like today’s bullying.  Note Davis's mention of the film "The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords" by Stanley Nelson. 

Early in 2014, I will try to contact the estate and see what can be done to produce the whole film.  I do have my own material to produce, but there could be some synergy,  I think I do know of production entities or outfits that might be interested in working with this material. 

First picture: from National Archives (p.d.), Ku Klux Klan march (web picture); others, from the 2005 session in the Capitol.

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