Never forget. As much as some folks would like Blacks to forget the cruelties of slavery, segregation and racial injustice in America, it’s impossible to forget when things haven’t changed at all in some places. We wanted to call your attention to this documentary which was co-produced by award-winning documentary filmmaker Marco Williams. It explores the cruel practice of racial cleansing throughout the U.S. during the period following the Civil War.
Here’s more info via California Newsreel:
Between 1860 and 1920 hundreds of U.S. counties expelled their black residents. The pattern was depressingly similar in almost all cases. The counties tended to have small, defenseless black populations. A black man was rumored to have assaulted a white woman, was lynched and then white rioters attacked black neighborhoods with guns and firebombs. Few black property owners had time to sell their properties nor dared return to repossess them. Whites could then illegally assume ownership of them. African Americans not only lost their hard-won homes, farms and businesses, but saw their communities and families dispersed and their very right to exist violated. The film reveals that even one hundred years later, these racially cleansed communities tend to remain all-white bastions of separatism, sometimes harboring active klaverns of the Ku Klux Klan. Another California Newsreel release, Trouble Behind documents the same process in Corbin, Kentucky, home of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Banished first visits Forsyth County, Georgia, now a prosperous suburban sprawl north of Atlanta. In 1912, African Americans were violently driven out; today there is still a saying among black folk: “Don’t let the sun go down on you in Forsyth County.” In 1987 a bi-racial Martin Luther King Celebration tour was organized through the all-white county. Buses filled with marchers were met by angry mobs, led by seven white supremacist groups and a melee ensued. The governor set up a commission to investigate the incident and to respond to black calls that the stolen land be returned to them. We meet the Strickland family as they return to the 2000 acres once owned by their great grandfather and they restore the neglected family burial ground as a “monument to the past.” Although the commission found no deeds for the passage of land from half of the expelled black owners to whites, the white members denied that their community was responsible for any recompense and that statute of limitations had run out for any claims against illegal occupation. The Stricklands were denied not only their land but even the closure that the acknowledgement of past injustices might have given them.
The small, peaceful town of Pierce City, Missouri, banished its African American population in1901; it is still all-white. In 2006, a descendant of one of the expelled families, Charles Brown, decided to exhume the body of his great-grandfather buried in Pierce City and inter it in the family plot in Springfield. He met bureaucratic stone-walling and what emerged as a pattern of denial and avoidance on the part of whites. But the soft-spoken, reasonable Brown persisted and finally convinced the local coroner and a former mayor to help him rebury his ancestor. But when he unexpectedly asked Pierce City to pay the bill as a token of regret for the banishment, the whites felt betrayed, the victims of a “bait and switch.” They offered a transparently hypocritical response: the crimes of 1901 were so horrific that no dollar amount could ever compensate, only trivialize them. Sherrilyn Ifill, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland, stresses that reparations are a continuing process, providing recompense whenever and however it becomes possible.
Finally, Banished travels to Harrison, Arkansas, a small city where a faith-based process for “truth and reconciliation” was initiated, perhaps inspired by the South African example. In 1909, a white mob lynched a black man and then expelled the town’s black citizens. It is still all-white, a Klan stronghold with the Confederate flag flying over the Chamber of Commerce and a refuge for retirees who “who want to live without black people.” A Taskforce for Race Relations was formed to deal with this situation in a “substantive” way. It established two college scholarships for black students to attract them to the local schools, named after Aunt Vine, a maid, who was the only black person allowed to remain in Harrison after 1901. But one of the scholarship recipients observes that Harrison is still a “sundown town;” “black people won’t spend the night in Harrison.” The Taskforce hired a consultant, David Zimmerman, a local historian, who suggested they erect a monument in the city square acknowledging that nearby there once was a flourishing African American community which was destroyed by a white mob. This would provide a public space for acknowledgement, healing and reconciliation but even this modest plan was met with objections.
This is something that should never be forgotten. This is our legacy and our children should know it and understand the history of our struggle and the nature of racism in America.
For more information on Banished and to order a copy visit the film’s website HERE