Monday, July 23, 2012

Masters and Man

Check out this video on Dateline.  It's a clip that didn't appear in Dateline's Finding Booker's Place broadcast.  In it, Raymond De Felitta talks about about the place where we stayed while making Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story and, what it was like to visit the South.

The Tallahatchie Flats, where we stayed during filming, is an interesting place.  It's a collection of reclaimed sharecropper shacks that sits on the Tallahatchie River, the same river where Emmitt Till's body was discarded after he'd been beaten and tortured all night long for making a sound in the direction of a white woman.

The Flats have been restored enough to make them livable.  They have working toilets, the spaces between the floorboards have been sealed, and each flat has at least one room with a window air conditioning unit.  It's strange to me that people think its quaint to live in sharecropper shacks.  It reminds me of people who tour Alcatraz and want to be temporarily locked up.

Raymond makes a point in this video that I really want the world to know: sharecropping continued well into the 1970s.  Many blacks continued to live at or below the poverty level while they worked their fingers to the bone in hot fields only to be told at the end of the year that they hadn't earned enough money to get paid. Many young black boys, my father included, were expected to miss school when the harvest came in.

I have to say though, the Flats truly are in God's country.  They overlook breathtakingly beautiful fields that stretch on and on.  Nights at the Flats are blanketed by an eerie silence.  I have to wonder how many slaves were whipped in those fields, and how many mothers had their young sons dragged from their arms because someone decided it was time for their sons to be sold.

Many times in the last five years I've thought about tracing my roots back as far as I can.  I envision myself uncovering the stories of my ancestors who lived as slaves. I went back two generations and found Booker Wright.  His presence in my family line has been an amazing gift, but it hasn't come without a cost.  His story pains me, and I wonder how I will bear the weight of all the other stories which will most likely grow more and more painful as I look back deeper and deeper in time.  Maybe I'll save this job for my sons.  Maybe I'll be brave enough to do it tomorrow, or next year, or in the next decade.


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