EmptyPARK CITY -- "Banished," directed by veteran filmmaker Marco Williams, adds another compelling and necessary chapter to the literature of racism in this country. Although it is virtually unknown, more than a dozen counties in the U.S. violently expelled thousands of families in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression. But these are not just historical facts. "Banished" explores the legacy of these events in the communities and for the descendants of the families. Enlightening and informative, the film should have a healthy life on cable outlets and in classrooms.
Williams visits three communities and examines the lasting effect the expulsions have had on their vitality. The first stop is one of the whitest counties in the South, Forsyth County, Ga., where 1,000 blacks were banished in 1912 and, according to the 1980 census, only one black person was living there then. To give the story context, we see footage from a 1987 Brotherhood march in which demonstrators are met by townsfolk and Klansmen waving Confederate flags and throwing stones. Says one demonstrator, "We had reached an abyss where we weren't supposed to be."
And so Forsyth County remains to this day. But back in 1912, Morgan Strickland and his clan were respected landowners in the town. The film follows his descendants' efforts to find out what happened to this land. In one moving scene, the family returns to discover an overgrown and neglected ancestral graveyard. They clear the land, place flowers and pray, but there is no reparation.
Charles and James Cobb had no idea of their family history in Pierce City, Mo., until they stumbled upon a newspaper story and recognized their kin in an old photograph. Their efforts at reparation center on the disinterment of their great-grandfather so they can move him to friendly ground next to his son. The Cobbs' dialogue with the town, particularly the sympathetic but limited county coroner, reveals the ambiguity of the issue. The Cobbs ask the town to foot the bill, claiming that it "will go long way to saying that Pierce City has changed." But there is no reparation.
Williams' last stop is Harrison, Ark., where, in two episodes of mob violence in 1905 and 1909, all black citizens were expelled from the town. After a newspaper article revealed this history, a voluntary task force was formed to find ways to make amends. But in visits to the leader of the Ku Klux Klan who lives nearby, and other elderly people in the town, it becomes clear that Harrison has become a haven for people who want to live a life where there are no blacks. An attempt to place a grave marker for the town's last black woman is denied.
As "Banished" points out, these are by no means isolated communities but representative of the institutionalized racism that was prevalent then and continues today. Newspaper stories often are the catalyst for awareness, and Williams interviews several journalists, all white, who have written often unpopular stories on the subject. And sometimes, as the only black man in these town, Williams is forced to interject his presence as a way to seek the truth.
More than a history lesson, "Banished" seeks an answer for both sides to the questions of how we can come to terms with what happened and what we can do now to heal the wounds.
Center for Investigative Reporting, Two-Tone Prods. and ITVS in association with the National Black Programming Consortium
Director: Marco Williams
Producers: Marco Williams, Shukree Tilghman, Van Dora Williams
Executive producers: Burt Glass, Dan Noyes, Whitney Dow
Director of photography: Steve McCarthy
Editors: Kathryn Barnier, Sandra Christie
Running time -- 89 minutes
No MPAA rating