Film sparks dialogue

Sunday, March 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:05 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The discussion that followed the True/ False movie “Banished” on Saturday afternoon at The Blue Note suggested that efforts at racial reparation — no matter how well-meaning — continue to be received differently based on perspective.

The documentary chronicles the racial “cleansing” of two towns: Harrison, Ark., and Pierce City, and an entire county — Forsyth County, Ga., in the beginning of the 20th century. As a result, these communities have largely remained all-white. The film explores the present-day struggle of both blacks and whites to redress these injustices.

New York-based film director Marco Williams asked nine panelists, all of whom appeared in the film, to share the status of race relations in the three communities.

“As an African-American, I wouldn’t feel safe coming to any of your towns,” said audience member Yvonne Samuel, of St. Louis. “What have you put in place to ensure this will never happen again? Could we have a family reunion there?”

Carol Hirsch, the mayor of Pierce City, told Samuel that she would be welcome to come any time, and “would not need an appointment.”

“We are simply not the community we were in 1901 and never will be again,” she said.

Murray Bishoff, the editor of the Monett Times in Monett, a neighboring town of Pierce City, primarily paid for a memorial stone in the Pierce City cemetery that is dedicated to three lynched black men in 1901. He agreed with Hirsch that attitudes have changed in Pierce City. He noted that the stone’s inscription reads, “May Community Be Restored.”

“I think people have come to embrace that sentiment,” he said. “They’re happy to have it there.”

Bishoff has researched the racial “cleansings” of Pierce City extensively. He mentioned that the three towns in the movie were not the only place where the “‘Banished’ pattern” plays out — a white woman is allegedly assaulted, a black man is lynched, and the entire black community is driven out.

After the session, Marco Williams said the discussion was important.

“I’m actually very pleased with the informal/formal roundtable discussion because I think it’s very important to hear the thoughts of the people who are represented in the film,” he said. “Whether or not every remark they make is to be believed, or whether or not it’s naive, it’s still important to hear from the people.”

“I think the event was successful as a starting point,” Williams said.

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