Saturday, March 24, 2007

White Jacksonville Attorney Strikes a Blow for Black Justice

This is another story that gives us hope, as does the fact that it was prominently reported in the St. Augustine Record, which had a tendency to shy away from such stories in the past.

Texas governor pardons inmate

Kudos to Marcia Lane of the Record and Jacksonville Attorney Charlie Douglas--who grew up in St. Johns County--for participating in the campaign to free Tyrone Brown, a black man jailed for life by a Texas judge for a minor probation violation [tested positive for pot] while at the same time a white probation violator [multiple cocaine possessions] was given no jail time at all! The original crimes of these two men further demonstrate the inequity of their treatment. Brown was guilty of an armed robbery that netted $2. The white criminal was guilty of killing a prostitute.

The case shed light on a huge problem in America's criminal justice system, the abuse of sentencing and the war on drugs to perpetuate segregation. As Dare Not Walk Alone points out, among persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts, whites were less likely than African-Americans to be sent to prison. Thirty-three percent (33%) of convicted white defendants received a prison sentence, while 51% of African-American defendants received prison sentences. (Source: DoJ plus a whole bunch more here.)

Here's a follow-up story from Texas when Mr. Brown actually got out of jail and the moral, financial and logistical support of Mr. Douglas is acknowledged. And here's an earlier story about Douglas from the Record.

Now, some people might think it is politically incorrect to point out the fact that Mr. Douglas is white. But we think failure to mention this fact would be politically and morally short-sighted. Through our screening of DNWA around the country we have repeatedly witnessed the surprise expressed by audiences--both white and black--that some civil rights protestors were not black. Sometimes you can almost hear the surprise in the cinema when Rabbi Dresner mentions the 15 rabbis that braved the wrath of the KKK to come down from New Jersey and march beside Andrew Young and Dr. Hayling in St. Augustine.

Any perpetuation of the false impression that the civil rights movement was a blacks-only campaign does a grave disservice to the people of all races and faiths (including humanists who might be said to be of no faith) who worked so hard, and sometimes at great personal and professional cost, to build bridges and alliances with which to push the civil rights agenda forward to victory.

Perhaps some of the lingering inter-racial fear that afflicts so many American communities could be alleviated if more people were aware that civil rights won when decent white folks and brave black folks came together to undo the evil that other white folks had created.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keeping Hope Alive: Love and caring from the next generation

So often these days we hear about "kids today" doing foolish things, being selfish beings. But at DNWA we have seen numerous examples of just the opposite: kids who care and kids who do smart things. A good example was the recent outdoor screening of Dare Not Walk Alone orchestrated by the Intervarsity goup at Flagler College. It made a lot more people aware of the movie than an indoor showing.
Another great example is what Meghan Fretto and her friends did just before Christmas of 2006. Meghan is the younger sister of Mike Fretto who designed the Dare Not Walk Alone web site and performed numerous other helpful tasks during the making of the film. When Meghan and her peers from her church youth group heard about the unfortunate circumstances of the Coley family after the tragic fire they were touched. Their response was to make and sell Christmas wreaths to raise money. You can read all about it over at the Rosa Loves blog (which is where Mike and friends sell very cool t-shirts designed to raise money and consciousness).

The funds that Meghan and friends raised--well over $500!--will really help when work starts on the house that is going to replace the one that burned down. But what these kids did will do a lot more than that. First of all, it will serve to remind everyone that there are kids who have initiative and drive and who care about others. Second, it is yet another example of how caring crosses all barriers, such as those of age and race, and in so doing, helps to wear them down.

So we all thank Meghan and her friends very much and very sincerely for what they did.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Postscript: The Man on the Ground is Andrew Young

As far as we know, the man being kicked in the photograph in the last posting is former Mayor of Atlanta and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Andrew Young. He speaks about the experience in Dare Not Walk Alone, saying "The only time I was beaten up like that, as far as I can recall, was in Saint Augustine."

The Greatest Civil Rights Story Never Told

Perhaps the comment we hear most often after screening Dare Not Walk Alone can be paraphrased as: "I never knew that." There are variations, such as "I had no idea this happened" or "They don't teach you this in school." But they all add up to a simple fact: What happened in St. Johns County, Florida, in 1964 is probably the greatest civil rights story never told.

After all, the events of that particular year, in that particular place, caused the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be passed. Those events alone did not create the act, but the act was stalled in congress and seriously in doubt until the brave protesters, black and white, demonstrated on the streets and beaches of Saint Augustine to show that--regardless of how much they were beaten and abused--they would not back down, nor would they fight back. This last fact perfectly illustrates the power and the genius of Dr. King's non-violent protest strategy. Basically it sent a message to congress that went something like this: The world will continue to see nightly images of black Americans being attacked by white Americans until you change the law.

Yet this chapter in the long march to liberate America from the evils of segregation does not show up on the timelines of civil rights history. You can check this out for yourself by visiting these links, the top 5 results from a Google search on these words: civil rights timeline.

  1. Milestones in the modern civil rights movement
  2. CNN Civil Rights Movement Timeline
  3. Seattle Times MLK Timeline
  4. Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement UC Irvine
  5. PBS African American World Timeline
If you dig deeper, into the top ten results for this topic, you still find NO mention of Saint Augustine or even Florida. Considering that Dr. King was jailed in Saint Augustine and one of the the houses he stayed in was fired upon you would think it merited a mention, but no.

Indeed, when you read these time lines it is easy to get the idea that the passage of the first civil rights act came out of nowhere. But listen to President Johnson speaking on White House tapes about the protests in Saint Augustine, as documented in Dare Not Walk Alone:
"Our whole foreign policy and everything else could go to hell over this."
It is clear that what the Florida protesters accomplished was both provocative and precipitous, crucial and critical. Equally clear from our research is the fact that their role has been lost to history, until now.

Jeremy Dean, who directed the film, is to be applauded for repeatedly making this point to the producers. It was Jeremy who kept saying "They don't teach this stuff in school." It was the producer, Richard Mergener, and the executive producers, Stephen and Chey Cobb, who decided to take this on faith, knowing that if Jeremy was right, the film would have considerable importance as an educational tool. But they also knew that if Jeremy was wrong, and everybody had already heard all about this, then the film's appeal would be considerably undermined. After all, being some twenty years older then Jeremy, they were in school when these events took place. They really didn't know what had been taught about civil rights since then. Thankfully, Jeremy was right!

Monday, March 12, 2007

And Another One! We are booked into Indianapolis Film Festival, April/May

Thanks to THINKFilm we have two screenings at the Indianapolis International Film Festival 2007 and we already have the dates: April 28th and May 3rd.

So you know what to do: DNWA Supporters! Ready, Set, Start your email engines! Let your friends and family in the mid-west know about this one. We have not showed in this region before so it will be good for the film to get a strong turnout.

Now let's see if we can recap the cities/states in which Dare not Walk Alone has been screened or booked. In no particular order and some more than once they are: San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix, Lithonia, Buffalo, Connecticut, Indianapolis, Winston-Salem, Orlando, Sarasota, Jacksonville, Miami, Gainesville, and not to forget, our very own Saint Augustine. Let me know if I have missed any or added some imaginary ones.

2007 RiverRun International Film Festival, April, Winston-Salem, NC

Tell your North Carolina friends: Dare not Walk Alone will be screened at the 2007 RiverRun International Film Festival, in Winston-Salem, April 18-23. Exact dates not known yet, but will post as they are announced. Film buffs should check the web site for early bird special on the "Patron Pass" discounted through March 21.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Coley Family Housing Update: People can pull together to make things happen!

When the home of Helen Coley at 521 Woodlawn in Saint Augustine burned down, the family's plight touched many people. The home had been highlighted in Dare Not Walk Alone as an example of the inferior living conditions that existed forty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, right here in the community that fought to get that law passed.

The day after the fire there was an immediate outpouring of material assistance in the community, graciously handled by the local paper, the St. Augustine Record, with aid of folk from several churches and under the eventual coordination of Chey Cobb, one of the executive producers of Dare Not Walk Alone. Chey was eventually able to get Helen and her family relocated to subsidized housing to await rebuilding of the home at 521. In the meantime, St. Johns County stepped up with a program to remove the remnants of the burned out building at no cost (if you know anything about construction, you know this is a big savings because clearing a lot really racks up labor and machinery costs, not to mention heft waste disposal fees).

Thanks to Derek Hankerson of the St John's Housing & Community Services Division, Helen and Chey have completed the paperwork for this phase. Timing of the rebuilding is not clear yet, but it will be financed in part by the donations that continue to come in (see Love Continues to Spread) and for which Helen and here family are deeply grateful. There is also some insurance money to work with.

Helen's case is an interesting example of the complexity of low and fixed income housing issues. Helen had lived in the house for nearly 30 years. There was no mortgage. But she hardly ever had enough money left at the end of the month to foot the bill for repairs and maintenance. And she couldn't afford comprehensive insurance coverage. In other words, and this is by no means a unique situation in this community, if the house is destroyed by a storm or a fire, the owner doesn't have the means to replace it. There is not enough income coming in for a new mortgage or building loan payments. Cases like this tend to slip through all the safety nets and government/private assistance programs.

But there is good news. The county really seems to be paying attention to these problems now and making a serious effort to improve the quality of housing for residents of this community. Nobody is expecting miracles overnight, but the continued concern and generosity of people locally and beyond is making a difference.