03 November 2007


Last night Male Offspring and I had the opportunity to go to a screening of the film, Banished - American Ethnic Cleansings. The film maker, Marco Williams, stayed to answer questions after the screening.

The film has been making the rounds of film festivals this year, and will be shown on PBS in January or February, 2008. It covers three (of many) communities in which the Black populations were forcibly expelled in the early 1900s, losing their homes and land. They were forced out with guns, bombs, fire, lynchings. Many of these communities remain White even today.

One family, including their 95-year-old matriarch, finds that the 38 acres of land once owned by their grandparents in Forsyth County, GA, is now a wealthy subdivision. Researching the deed history shows that there was never a deed of sale before the family was run out of town - other people took it afterward, by default, by illegal means. The people living on the land now, in $300,000 homes, believe they have purchased the land fair and square.

(When the Ex and I lived near Atlanta, we were told never to go to Forsyth County or Macon - that Black people "weren't allowed". That was in 1990.)

Another family attempts to recover a grandfather's remains from an unmarked grave in the all-White town of Pierce City, MO. The family had onced owned property in town, but was among those forced out by a mob of Whites who, with weapons from the local armory, fired on the homes of their Black neighbors.

The film maker also visits the all-white town of Harrison, Arkansas, where the confederate flag still flies. He interviews a pastor trying to take steps toward healing, as well as the head of the local KKK who considers himself a community leader.

Marco Williams was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and easy on the eyes. Hey, truth is truth, y'all. He said that before the actual filming started, he scouted out the towns on his own. I think he was brave as hell to do that as an African-American man, more so after seeing the footage. He admitted to being "terrified".

It was interesting how he used tangible means to tackle this subject - land. Property equals wealth. It is concrete, it appreciates in value, it can be passed on to our children. Over the course of time, it is how wealth is built. The land these families had worked for, when it was not easy for those of African descent to acquire land, was lost. Stolen.

The film raises the question, how different might the lives of the descendents be, had their families not lost their land - their wealth? They had to start over from scratch, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

Mr. Williams has included some trailers for the film on his site, if you're interested. These aren't actually in the final version of the film, but it gives an idea.

The film doesn't offer concrete answers, but it does bring out some difficult questions about a part of our history that we are not taught.

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