Sunday, August 21, 2011
I thought I’d write a summary of Booker’s story to state, in a dramatic fashion, what I see as the spine of our movie.
Booker’s story is that of an illiterate black man born into a life of poverty in the sharecropping world of 1920's Mississippi who managed to pull himself out of that life despite his limitations. He built himself a life “in the city” as a business person, fulfilling his dream of owning his own business--a restaurant called "Booker's Place" in the black part of town. He managed to do this by working nights as a waiter at the legendary "Lusco's Steak House"--a Mississippi landmark in the white part of town (it was segregated, of course). By walking on two sides of the street, as it were--serving the white master in order to be his own master amongst the black citizens--he was able to function in an uncommonly independent way. You could say that, despite the killing workload, he truly had it made.
But people can only remain restrained from revolt for so long; too many years of verbal and physical oppression and deprivation of human rights inevitably results in revolution. When this happened in Greenwood, Booker Wright watched safely from the sidelines but felt something boling up inside him, something that he couldn’t contain. Though nobody remembers him as being vocally supportive of the movement for black freedom, his turn came when NBC News came to Greenwood to see how whites and blacks got along. My father's documentary unit was there to cover the volatile events of the mid-sixties and somebody told them that a black restaurant owner/worker named Booker Wright would be interested in speaking to the camera's. For reasons that are buried with him, Booker chose to unleash a lifetime of pent up frustration and contempt for the white people who he’d spent his life serving—first as the ward of a sharecropping family (where he was deprived of his natural mother due to the machinations of the plantation owner), next as a servant to the planter class and Greenwood white citizenry at the local restaurant where he worked.
By telling the truth of his feelings to a nationwide audience, Booker earned the enmity of the white world in which he’d long served. He had broken free of the last of his “enslavement” but at a price: he was beaten by a white policeman to the point of needing hospitalization, fired from his job and ostracized by his former “friends” in the white community.
Here is a clip of Booker's appearence on my fathers NBC news documentary "Mississippi: A Self-Portrait". His astonishing monologue would have wide-reaching impact on the citizens and politicians of Mississippi. And a few years later it would have a tragic impact on Booker's life.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 10:15 AM