“On Bended Knees, 1963” (working title)
In 1963, as America was reeling from the modern-day Civil Rights Movement, a small city in the rolling Appalachian foothills of northeast Alabama was a flash point for nonviolent peaceful protest. However, the events that happened there are not part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. In 1963, Gadsden, Alabama was a significant location in the struggle for basic human rights, voter registration, integration, and employment opportunities. It was a time when hope and hatred were on full display. Around the country and in Gadsden, the year was crowded with acts of violence from law enforcement and white resistors. “It was there [in Gadsden], the theory of brutally beating Negroes in large numbers as a means of creating a blanket of fear in the community was initiated in the grandest of Southern style.” William Douthard, Gadsden Freedom Movement and SNCC member.
The events captured by the media in Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery have become part of the Civil Rights canon. However, because of the media’s relative absence in Gadsden, the numerous brave acts of protest and violent reprisals have gone largely unrecognized as part of that canon – until now.
Today, African Americans comprise 35 percent of Gadsden’s population. Nonetheless, a statue of Emma Samson still stands proudly at the west end of Broad Street. Samson, a white woman, is known for aiding Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War. Ironically, there are no memorials or enshrinements to Gadsden’s Civil Rights Foot Soldiers.
On Bended Knees redresses the omission of the 1963 events in Gadsden from the larger Civil Rights narrative by presenting the stories of local foot soldiers, in their own words. The film will celebrate these people, in that place, at that very historic time. The summer of 2023 will be the 60th anniversary of that turbulent period.
The Book of Solomon (working title)
Before Lee Elder and Tiger Woods, there was Solomon Hughes, a Black caddy master and professional golfer from Gadsden (Etowah County), Alabama. Hughes challenged the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour when he attempted to play in the all-white 1948 St. Paul Minnesota Open. Hughes, a gifted golfer, and insightful instructor gave golf lessons to boxers Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. This is the untold story of Hughes’ life, and the efforts of two devoted golfers as they drive to make his legacy wider known. They believe he should be a member of the Etowah County and Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
The Proving Ground? (working title)
In the late 1960s, two young Black men from Alabama’s Hill Country were drawn into the Vietnam war. One, J.D., a civil rights foot soldier, and the son of a Black Baptist minister from a steel town, trained in chemicals, combat, and the culinary arts before he eventually became the first cook at Blackhorse Base Camp in southern Vietnam. The other, Hollis, from a small family farm, some 30 minutes away, became a Marine and engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the war near Quảng Trị in central Vietnam. This experimental documentary project will examine the unique experience, memories, and epistemology of these soldiers, born to working-class Black families in northern Alabama.