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 difficult personal life of poverty in the sharecropping world of the 1920[s and 30’s south who pulled himself out of that life and, despite his limitations, built himself a life “in the city” as a business person. He worked as a waiter (the best job available to him) in order to support his very “all-American” dream of being his own boss and running his own place. He most certainly would have been happy with that arrangement for the rest of his life had not history interfered. Once progress came to the south and once blacks were given the right to protest the conditions under which they lived within white society, Booker Wright—like many others around him—was forced to grow. Initially, though, he watched from the sidelines, wanting no trouble, wanting only to maintain the life he’d carefully built for himself on the two sides of town in two very different communities.
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 continued to watch 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. 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, fired from his job and ostracized by his former “friends” in the white community.
Here is a clip of Booker’s appearance 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. More on that in a minute…