In the early 1960s, Frank De Felitta was disturbed by the way he saw blacks being treated in the Delta, so in 1965 he took a film crew to Greenwood, Mississippi with the intention of giving white Mississippians an opportunity to explain, in their own words, what they felt towards the blacks living in their midst. De Felitta collected those interviews in a moving, poignant, sometimes disturbing, yet surprisingly hopeful documentary called
: A Self-Portrait. Mississippi
One of the people Frank interviewed was my grandfather, a man named Booker Wright. In a short, two minute monologue, Booker described with vulnerability and bravery what it felt like to be on the receiving end of racism. It would be a year before Frank’s documentary would air, but when it did, almost every major newspaper in the country published an article about it, and most of them included quotes from Booker Wright.
After the piece aired, in 1966, Booker was pistol whipped by a white police officer, and his job of 25 years was over.
Most blacks living in
Greenwood at the time did not own television sets, so while his statement became legendary in the white community, it went almost unnoticed among Greenwood blacks. Furthermore, Booker made the choice not to tell his children what he’d done.
I was born the year after my grandfather died and, when I was two years-old, my family moved to
where my father played professional football. I grew up knowing next to nothing about my grandfather and the small town of San Diego, California Greenwood. I didn't know that I came from a past of abject poverty and rampant illiteracy, because I grew up with luxury cars and endless opportunities.
After having two sons of my own, I decided that I needed to learn more about what I came from, so I started conducting family interviews. I quickly learned the story about my grandfather’s appearance in the news, and I started this blog to document both my search to find that footage and my efforts to uncover the story of a man who, at the time, seemed more like a myth to me.
In 2011, I was contacted by Frank De Felitta’s son, Raymond. He had the footage of Booker Wright speaking to the news crew. He shared it with me and the two of us set out on an adventure in the Delta. Raymond wanted to understand the journey his father had taken and to explore the impact his father’s film had on
Greenwood and on my family. I wanted to rebuild the story of a man who, for reasons I could not explain, felt more real to me than the people I interacted with every day.
Our parallel journeys are told in a documentary that Raymond directed and I co-produced called, Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story.
I'm working on a larger book called Searching for Booker Wright, that will tell the tragic and moving story of Booker’s life, from the plantation he grew up on, to the juke joint he ran, to his senseless murder which robbed me of the opportunity of ever truly knowing my hero.