♪♪ ♪♪ [ Crickets chirping ] [ Birds chirping ] [ Water burbling ] [ Suspenseful music plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -Paranoia is a very healthy thing in a town like this.
It may keep you alive.
♪♪ ♪♪ "Claude's body -- chiseled & mangled -- hangs in an oak by a rope.
There is nothing in this body we can desire, & we want.
We want a body, not mangled like ours, we can love without shame."
♪♪ ♪♪ Everything changes, but nothing changes.
The years pass; people live and die.
But these ideas, about who's on the top and who's beneath and who should stay in their place -- those things don't change.
♪♪ [ Owls hooting, crickets chirping ] I knew that the anniversary was coming up of Claude Neal's lynching in 1934.
I wanted to do something other than just write this poem.
I wanted something to happen so that people would have to acknowledge this.
This was around the time that maybe Trayvon Martin had been killed.
And I hate to say it.
It's so horrible to say like, "I can't remember what Black boy had died," and that makes me really sad.
There was nothing I could do about that, but I felt I could do something about this and I decided I was gonna run.
♪♪ -[Speaking indistinctly] -Actually, Lamar and I were very like close growin' up.
I actually looked up to him 'cause my parents were always like, "That's what you need to be.
You need to be like him."
I heard him doing a speech about a lynching of Claude Neal in college.
I just didn't believe it.
I did not believe that that had taken place in Jackson County and I had lived there for 19 years and had not heard about it.
But now there are people around here that did know.
You know, like my uncle up there who's very educated.
They didn't talk about it.
There are people at my church that didn't talk about it.
-Your normal is a chain.
-[Panting] -I didn't even know where they had done this, other than they had ended up at the courthouse.
I didn't know where they had dragged him.
I asked my daddy, "Where did this thing happen?"
And he told me, "The road," and I said, "Okay, we're gonna start there," and he said, "You know that's like a long way," and I'm like "Yeah.
It was 14 miles.
That's what it says in the book.
I'm gonna do it."
♪♪ People started messaging me, "Are you crazy?
You're gonna get hurt.
You think it's just a little run.
You're stirrin' up some crazy mess.
Don't do this.
Don't do this."
♪♪ -Well, nobody alive did that, but, somebody did that.
-It was never discussed around me when I was a child.
My parents and my grandmothers were both alive at the time.
Didn't wanna face it.
You know, they don't want it to reflect poorly on their community.
They won't own it.
And you have to, to move on.
[ "Battle Hymn of the Republic" plays ] -In high school, I lived in the Jackson County Public Library and they had a special section of books about Jackson County and then I saw this book that said "Anatomy of a Lynching."
I started reading and I saw 1934 and I said, "My grandmother, who was born in 1905, she would've been alive," and, as soon as I got in the car, I said, "Ma Mary, did you know Claude Neal?"
I could see her whole body sort of like sink in the seat.
The only thing my grandmother said, which I put in the poem that I wrote: "I told that boy to leave that white gal alone."
That's the only thing she said.
-This was Miss Allie Mae's house that had that ramp, right?
-Yeah, but she's not there.
-She don't live -- -I know, Ma.
They just wanna see the house.
It's been a long time since I was here.
I don't know if I want it on camera.
I don't know, like.
I just don't want -- Yeah, I don't know -- I mean -- Because the thing about it is like I could just see somebody coming here and doing some harm to her house, you know what I'm saying?
I don't wanna do anything to bring harm to her.
And that's the real hard part, is that, unfortunately, this is what she's forever known for, that this thing happened to her father and happened to her.
And I think she wants so desperately not to be connected to that.
♪♪ Mrs. Allie Mae Smith was the daughter of Claude Neal, the victim of the 1934 lynching.
What is so beautiful about these women and these men is that, after 1934 happened, they found a way to rebuild their lives.
They found a way to love and to be happy and to raise children and they didn't want us to feel afraid.
They didn't want us to feel the terror that they had to unlearn over time.
♪♪ When I write these poems, I know that I'm reanimating that terror, with intention to remind the people who don't live it.
Once you see that in a book and you read, "Penis cut off, fingers cut off, toes cut off," you start to see that in your mind's eye and you can't unsee that.
You can't un-feel what that must feel like.
You can't unimagine it because now it's in your mind forever.
So many people don't wanna go down that road.
[ Panting ] ♪♪ ♪♪ "Child, they came from everywhere & all you could do was pray you weren't the nigger th ey picked for the picnic on the courthouse lawn, our grandmother says.
In the picture, Claude is alone, but as she speaks, kids blur into the sepia background, ape the grins on their parents' faces, await their turn to prod his charred flesh."
[ Panting ] -Lamar and I talked, in later years, more about it.
You know, he's done a lot of work in the community, in regards to that, bringing a lot of attention to it, and I've always told him, you know, "I mean, you know, I'm here for you, you know.
I think there are some people around here that are afraid or scared to get behind it, but I'm not."
[ Insects buzzing ] When I first got back here and I started working with the NAACP, I was a counselor.
The number-one thing I talked about was like they completely over-police the West End.
I got pulled over several times for almost runnin' a red light.
That's gotta be a boring shift, when you're pullin' over people for almost runnin' a red light, right?
And then that's where your Black prison population comes from.
When it comes down to that courthouse, white people get treated better.
I get them on probation.
I get them on drug court.
It's no secret that this area treats white people different.
Anybody that doesn't acknowledge that has their head up their ass or they're a liar.
♪♪ I've seen us in the woods with rattlesnakes.
I've seen us in fields with like a big bull that's about to charge us, in just some precarious positions, but I've never, in my life, seen my dad as afraid like he was then.
I believe I was about eight or nine years old.
We actually were driving through Cottonwood and Cottonwood had regular Ku Klux Klan meetings.
There were like 400 or 500 people, 80% of them in like regalia and everything, and they were like just walkin' around in town and people were spillin' over.
And, you know, you just had people look at you like, you know, "You nigger," and like, "Die, nigger" and -- and -- and -- I only seen my dad cry twice and I could just see he was angry.
There was nothin' he could do about it: "As a man, I can't protect my family."
And so I saw that piece get taken away from him.
You know, I just never forgot.
♪♪ I just never understood why these people that didn't know anything about me were like so hateful towards me, you know, at nine years old.
Why does this person hate me and they don't know me?
♪♪ [ Crickets chirping ] -My grandfather was an actual, genuine cracker cowboy.
It's the original settlers to Florida.
They were actually the original cowboys, before the Western cowboys.
[ Dog barking in distance ] -I do have a lot of relatives here.
My ancestors were early settlers here.
My great-great-grandfather was actually -- owned a plantation, a small plantation.
The name was McQuaig and was a slave owner.
I have some family records that show, oh, two or three, I think.
-My family, when emancipation came, they were given land on the land that they had been enslaved.
We had this understanding that we were descendants of people who had found a way to take some ownership of what was a horrific history and to transform it into something positive that they were able to be proud of.
-When you first gather at a party and you're standing around and everybody's just kind of, you know, awkward and lookin' for something to talk about, someone would tell a racial joke or they would make a comment, express some fear.
You've got people, you know, it matters to them that society be structured a certain way.
Then, you got people that just, you know, want to get by.
They want their families to be okay.
There's not two boxes: racist and non-racist.
You have a continuum.
And there are some really good people that we encounter.
You know, they won't talk about it, one way or the other.
They won't stand up and challenge anybody or say anything.
And then, you've got people that are, you know, just downright mean and want to do mean things to somebody and look for a reason to do it.
[ Crickets chirping ] For years and years and years, I've heard it said that, if we're not careful, the African Americans are gonna take over.
They wouldn't necessarily use that word, but if we're not careful, that's gonna happen.
And when Barack Obama got elected president, they thought that it was just about to happen.
[ Bird chattering ] We just get so tired of hearing the same conversations, the same point of views that we just choose, you know, not to participate.
And then, we've had some people that have just flat-out, you know, "Get outta my face and don't come back around.
We don't wanna [chuckle] see you anymore."
[ Creature trilling ] The price is basically isolation.
And not so much that we've been isolated, but that we've isolated ourselves, just to avoid falling into that sunken place.
♪♪ -I didn't know George until the run.
I didn't know him at all.
In fact, I was quite skeptical of George.
His wife, Pam, messaged me on Facebook and said, "Please add me," you know, "I wanna tag you and I wanna support the run."
-The first few pictures are before I had an opportunity to introduce myself.
-[Laughs] Lamar was just gonna do the run by himself, solo, from Greenwood to Marianna.
That needs to be documented, you know?
We just... -Thought they needed some local support.
-He met us where we started and he introduced himself and he told me that he was a lawyer in town and asked me if it was okay if he took pictures and some video and I said okay.
That's when I met him.
-Can you read his T-shirt?
-"A time -Both: comes when silence is betrayal."
♪♪ -"He stared at Claude, hanging, in The Anatomy of a Lynching on that long ride home from the library, squinting but unable to see Claude's pupils, see if peace eclipsed terror before he died... news of Claude's fingers & toes sold as souvenirs, reached stands.
I told that boy to leave that white gal alone".
♪♪ Claude Neal was a young man who made the mistake of getting involved with one of his childhood playmates and she ended up dead and he ended up accused of killing her, so he was forced to confess to a murder that he may or may not have committed.
He was the man who was lynched in October 1934, which resulted in what was then one of the most publicized, infamous, and celebrated lynchings of that era.
Thousands of people came for the spectacle that was a picnic, as they called it.
[ Suspenseful chords strike ] So, imagine how angry they were to find out, when they got to the courthouse, that it had already happened.
The horror of it was that, not only did they kill him, but then, they went out into the African American communities and were trying to like harm other people, so much so that the governor had to call for the National Guard to come in to suppress this riot -- and that's what it was called -- or mob.
We think of "mob" and "riot" and we think of different communities, but these were white people, angry white men, just like we saw a few weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, coming into Black communities because they didn't get to see the N-word, that nigger, lynched.
♪♪ "It is almost dawn now.
The courthouse towers there, in the center of that town, & that oak, mostly limbless, looms...
Soon, its flaccid branches will shade more brown boys, guilty or not, waiting to learn what their next move will be.
It's hard to get anywhere without passing it, passing them, bowed, not meeting our gaze."
[ Suspenseful music climbs ] I thought, "This will maybe galvanize something in this town."
This would awaken this town to think about this thing that happened 70 years ago and to realize that, at this very same courthouse, people are being lynched in other ways.
Their lives are being ruined through the injustice system that we have in place, particularly in Jackson County.
♪♪ [ Flames crackling ] ♪♪ -You know, some of those people of those last names that are associated with people that are, you know, from around this community where I grew up in, I mean, it's just -- I just couldn't believe it and so I started doin' my research and, you know... ♪♪ ...that's that.
There are people that reportedly still have his body parts.
It has me absolutely, positively angry, now.
You know, it's sickening and I think that they don't want to acknowledge it because, to acknowledge that those atrocities took place would have to acknowledge that, "Hey, my grandparents were pretty messed-up people."
♪♪ -My parents were both pretty well-educated.
They were readers.
My dad was the conservative.
But, even though they were racist -- you know, they had racist beliefs and they treated people of color as inferiors -- they never taught me hate and they never were hateful, violently hateful, you know, caustically hateful.
We were both at Marianna High School when it first integrated in 1965.
I have classmates who report, you know, being spat on, cursed at, mistreated, and I -- I never really saw them lose it and I'm amazed at that.
-I truly am amazed with how adult they were, as children, really, you know, 15-, 16-year-olds.
You know, I hadn't thought of that, exactly, or, you know.
I think it would've become violent.
I think they knew it would have become violent.
♪♪ -There was a man that wasn't directly kin to me, but, somehow, through marriage, the family kind of put up with him when he would show up.
-[Chuckle] -And, you know, he used to get his kicks by tellin' me, a little kid who didn't wanna hear these things, about racial violence that he had perpetrated, you know.
He claimed he had a baseball bat in his closet and he was gonna show it to me, if I ever came by his house, and it still had the blood on it, ahem, where they tied this kid to a tree and beat him to death with that baseball bat.
[chuckling] Goes back to early childhood memories that I've been hearing about this stuff.
♪♪ Well, we'll talk about this [laughing] later, off the record.
The existence of body parts in town.
♪♪ -[Sigh] ♪♪ -They were waiting for me at the courthouse.
People were riding in cars, checking on me.
♪♪ It became a huge event that first year.
The disappointing thing was that, in subsequent years, nobody has returned and nothing has happened.
♪♪ That third year, Miss Allie Mae asked my mother to tell me, "Please don't do this another year," because people had started to call her.
"Well, you know, we don't want to have any trouble for you, now."
These little, subtle things, these little, insidious threats.
And that triggers everything that she went through when she was a one-year-old girl dragged, when they people are trying to kill her, because that's what happened in the wake of 1934.
She was literally dragged, such that she walks with a limp, to this day.
♪♪ I'm constantly worried that what I'm doing is gonna endanger the lives of the people that I love and that it may not be them hanging from a tree, but it may be them picked up for some petty crime and hurt.
♪♪ [ Sniffle ] People's lives are ruined here every day.
[ Sniffle ] [ Thunder rumbles ] I wanna be optimistic.
I really do.
I used to be.
When I was 17, 18, gonna, you know, change the world and write these stories and right these wrongs.
I believed that.
But these last 10 years have just -- I don't know, man.
I just see these stories where people are murdered and nobody has to pay anything for it, man, you know?
And I wanna believe, but I don't see how it's gonna change.
I just don't see it happening.
[ Melancholy tune plays ] -We may be approaching that kind of violence again and it's time for people to take a hard look and say, "What is within me that may be a shared characteristic with these people who did this?"
And we've got to make the world better 'cause, when you look at it straight-on and realistically, it's pretty scary.
-When you stand up and you make the decision that you're going to fight against the system, there are gonna be repercussions and they're gonna be subtle.
They're gonna be things that have been done for years that people know they can get away with.
I mean, over the last, maybe, five, six years, it's gotten progressively worse for me.
But, the time that I'm here is going to be spent making a positive impact and if I gotta go through hell now, then I'll just go through hell now.
-Until George and all these well-meaning white people decide that "I'm gonna use my life and my position to force people who look like me to contend with this," it's not going to change.
My doing it, LaDray doing it, all these people who are Black doing it is not enough.
It's until people who are neighbors of these people, who are putting up KKK flags or posting things on Facebook, until they say, "You can't do that.
Not on my watch."
Because those people are coming out of the shadows and they're running down the streets of Charlottesville and, maybe soon, Marianna, and threatening people and harming people and getting away with it and, until people decide that's not okay, it's not gonna change.
♪♪ ♪♪ -Alright, now try to move a little forward, kind of slow.
♪♪ [laughing] Alright, cool.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪