Thursday, March 21, 2013

Booker's Place

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"Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story", is a 2012 follow up documentary to an NBC special that aired in 1965 entitled, "Mississippi: A Self-Portrait". The man who directed the 1965 documentary, Frank De Felitta is the father of the man who directed the follow up, Raymond De Felitta. The original film focused on interviews with White and Black residents of Mississippi, who talked about how they view relations with their counterparts of another color. While the Whites made comments like, "the negroes love living here", a Black man named Booker, a waiter at a Whites-only restaurant by day, and an entrepreneur who owned his own resturant (Booker's Place) by night, honestly shared his experience. His assessment seemed fair: some of his White customers were nice, some weren't, but he confessed that he took it all in with a smile, because this was something he had to endure in order to make money to pay for his daughters' education (I honestly got emotional when he said this. He shared that he basically had to sing and laugh and overlook insult in order to keep his job, all to make sure that his children had a bright future.  I guess alot of our grandparents had to do this). It was also notable how Booker put on his act when the camera man asked him to do his typical routine in which he sang the menu to customers. Essentially, he had to put on the mask of the stereotypical jolly Black man for his customers, but when he spoke in a regular tone to the interviewer, the viewer can tell that he was quite intelligent, with goals and aspirations like any other human being (clearly, since he was a business owner, himself). Other Blacks who took part in the film withheld their opinions on life in Mississippi, which was probably wise.

Imagine the uproar when the special aired on television, and the Whites in Greenwood, Mississippi saw good ole Booker complaining about the way some of his customers treated him.  It seems that they felt that he was making the town look bad, and so he became a target. He was attacked and his restaurant was ransacked. He survived all of the above until several years later, a Black man shot him. Did the town's powers that be pay this man to shoot Booker? Was it all a conspiracy? Or was it pure coicidence that someone had finally "taken care" of him?

While this is just one man's story, it definitely represents the experiences of many people during this era. What bothered me most is that this is a reminder that this kind of blatant racism and mistreatment occurred in a time not so long ago. What I liked best, though, was to see that his dream came true, post-mortem, in that both of his
daughters grew up to be educated and successful.

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Are you interested in documentaries that take place in the civil rights era? Did you even know about the original documentary about Mississippi that aired in the 1960s?


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