southern ritesSouthern Rites is a documentary that takes place in Montgomery County, Georgia. Gillian Laub, a photographer, first visited Montgomery County to photograph the town’s racially divided proms, gaining an insight into community tension. After photographing this, Laub’s story is published in the New York Times Magazine, which inadvertently gives the town unwanted notoriety and ends up forcing them to integrate their proms. Heading back one year later, Laub is not allowed to film the integrated proms and instead stumbles upon another story.

Laub ends up following two main events unfolding in Mount Vernon, GA: 1) an election campaign that the town hopes will lead to its first African-American sheriff and 2) the trial of white resident who is charged with murdering a young black man. Tension is high throughout the community and this documentary really gets to the heart of the problems. As Laub continues to investigate, multiple stories unfold surrounding the murder and each person affected by this tragedy shares their own personal feelings. Southern Rites travels along well-established racial lines in the community and shows how complex emotions and complicated truths are so well entangled. This documentary simultaneously highlights for readers how far we as a society have come, but also how far we still have to go in terms of racial understanding.

Only the Ball Was White, inspired by Robert Peterson’s book published in 1970. This film was produced and directed by Ken Solarz in 1980. The film is a historical look at the Negro League, which existed because baseball was a segregated sport until 1947, when Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The film basically covers the official formation of the Negro League in the early 1920s as well as an introduction to some of the more well-known players to rise up from the ranks of the Negro League including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Roy Campanella.

For someone who knows nothing about the Negro Leagues, this film serves as a nice way to get an introduction to the subject. For more information about the Negro League, you should watch the made-for-cable Soul of the Game and the classic Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, you might be on your way to scratching the surface of Negro League Baseball.

If you want to read about the Negro League, the book Shades of Glory by Lawrence Hogan would be an excellent choice. This book was published by the National Geographic in association with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

to kill mockingbirdMy favorite banned book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I loved this book; I loved the movie.  I can still picture (in black and white) Gregory Peck portaying the consummate Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, wiping his brow in the hot, segregated courtroom while his adoring daughter Scout, looks on from the balcony.

Set in a small Southern town in Alabama during the Depression, the book follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their father, Atticus, who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.  Thus, the book covers many issues, but because it is told through the eyes of young Scout, it never comes off as judgmental or preachy.

I could never understand why someone would not want others to read this book.  It won the Pulitzer Prise, it’s been translated into more than forty languages and was voted the best novel of the twentieth century.  If somehow you got through school without reading this book, now is the time to do so.  Come to think of it, it may be about time for me to read it again — it’s that good!