Hiding outside of the kitchen, Frederick Douglass heard desperate screams of help.
He looked through the crack of a door and saw a black slave woman being pushed to the ground by a white man. Later picking her up and tying her hands with rope, dangling from the ceiling, he ripped the back of her shirt to whip her, making her scream louder until she hushed.
This scene marked part one of the “The Abolitionists” shown Feb. 1 as part of the Created Equal Film Series at the Plattsburgh Public Library celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and Black History Month.
The series, co-sponsored by the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, the Clinton-Essex-Franklin County Library System and the Plattsburgh Public Library, received a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the five-part film series, giving also over 400 grants around the country.
“The topic of the civil rights struggle throughout American history is totally on the mark with our mission which is to educate people about the history of the Underground Railroad and the ongoing struggle for freedom and full rights in our society,” said Peter Slocum, programs director for the board of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. “The topic was a perfect match for our historical story, and the library system is always looking for ways to provide historical resources to the whole region.”
So far, “The Abolitionists” part one and two and “Freedom Riders” were shown with J.W. Wiley, director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at SUNY Plattsburgh and author of “The Nigger In You,” and Jackie Madison, president of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, as discussion leaders.
“The Abolitionists,” released in 2013, shows the struggles of men and women who led the battle to end slavery in the late 1800s featuring faces such as the daughter of a rich South Carolina slaveholder Angelina Grimke and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe. After the documentary, the floor was open for discussion, with one discussion of how Harriet Tubman was not mentioned.
“There were some interesting omissions in that piece,” Wiley said. “We had quite a few very knowledgeable people at that first showing, so a lot of people contributed to our conversation.
“It was nice.”
Even though the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln, abolished slavery on Feb. 1, 1863, discrimination continued in the United States. Walking into a diner, a black man sat on the side labeled “Colored Only.” Brave, young students walked in, black and white, and sat in the “White Only” section. They were denied service and were told to leave, but the students stayed and sat quietly until they received service, something that would not come to them easily.
The film “Freedom Riders,” shown at the Plattsburgh Public Library Feb. 15, took an inside look at the struggles activists had in the 1960s when they challenged segregation in the Deep, “Jim Crow” South by riding public buses such as Greyhound and disobeying the system.
Even though “The Abolitionists” didn’t mention Harriet Tubman, the “Freedom Riders” did mention Martin Luther King Jr. only not in the way a person would expect.
“The Freedom Riders wanted him, and he (Martin Luther King Jr.) declined,” Madison said. “They (the audience) didn’t see him in the same light.
“But some felt it was a good thing because he could’ve been killed.”
The next film, “Slavery By Another Name,” will be played Feb. 22 at the Plattsburgh Public Library at 1 p.m. with Wiley as a discussion leader. Going back before the Freedom Riders, this film will show how even though slavery was legally abolished, new forms of labor kept African Americans in bondage until the beginning of World War II.
Wiley said the two tactics used to implement Jim Crow was the Convict Lease System, a system of penal labor instituted in the American South after the emancipation of slaves by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865, and Negro Peonage, the new slavery in the South.
After slavery, resources weren’t available to black people, so they would turn either to a life of crime or remain in Negro Peonage. Many states in the south worked the system to their advantage and incarcerated once and kept incarcerating for a lifetime.
“So, what they’re doing in ‘Slavery By Another Name’ is redefining black people, still calling them niggers, but, basically, nigger means criminal,” Wiley said. “So, it’s an amazing thing to watch all of this is playing out.
Letting out a sigh, Wiley said, “My mind is blown by this crap. Blown.”
Lastly, “The Loving Story” will be played March 1 at the Plattsburgh Public Library at 1 p.m. with Robin Caudell, reporter from the Press Republican, and Portia Allie-Turco, professor of psychology at SUNY Plattsburgh as speakers. This film will show the marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested in 1958 for violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.
Allie-Turco, originally from South Africa, will also be sharing her story on when her and her husband wed in an interracial marriage shortly after the end of the apartheid.
Those who would like to attend the other two films, should contact the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System at 518-563-5190, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The North Country Underground Railroad Association plans to showcase two more films in the region, one in Keene Valley this fall and the other which will be announced.