Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Karen Meyer and David Tinsley, Rest in Peace

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I was so saddened today to hear of the passing of Karen Meyer. Karen was just a delightful, inspirational person. When it came to her beloved home, Marlin, she dedicated herself to her community and just rolled up her shirtsleeves and dove into problem-solving every way she knew how. Everyone who saw the film remarked on how inspirational Karen was. I am so glad to have met her and to have had an opportunity to work with her.

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I was equally saddened to hear of the passing of David Tinsley in late September. David was a one-of-a-kind; a man who truly exemplified what it means to be a Texan. He was an avid steward of the land, a great humanitarian and wonderfully funny, spirited and generous. Even though I hadn’t seen David in a couple of years, I missed his presence on the planet instantly.

We lost a number of participants in the Tomlinson Hill documentary over the last four years; significant losses, all. The film was dedicated to the memories of Pinky Taylor Price and Ray Charles Lang, both of whom passed shortly before the film was released. About a year later, we also heard that Bess Sebesta had passed on. She was well into her 90′s when we interviewed her. Her personality and memories were sharp and clear and provided a critical perspective on her experience teaching in the Marlin school system.

More than ever, these losses have underscored the need and importance of capturing critical oral histories before they are lost forever.
Chris and I are grateful to have had some beautiful moments with all of these lovely people. Don’t hesitate to ask your loved ones for their stories, before they are gone. You’ll be glad you did.

Video: Pulling Cotton Versus Picking Cotton

One of the most fun, and most informative, couples I met while working on Tomlinson Hill was Charles and Zelma Tomlinson. Charles is the grandson of Peter, the last black Tomlinson born into slavery on Tomlinson Hill. Zelma married Charles on the Hill when she was 17 years old and they’ve been together over 60 years.

Charles and Zelma agreed to meet me in Marlin in September 2012 to show me around the parts of Tomlinson Hill and Falls County that they called home. They showed me where the African American Tomlinsons lived when they were sharecroppers, and the home they built when sharecropping came to an end. Their memories, both good and bad, helped me understand our family stories so much better.

The cotton crop was coming in while we were visiting the Hill, and I asked them about pulling cotton, which is the phrase used by most former sharecroppers in Falls County. Zelma told me they are two different things, depending on whether the priority was to harvest the crop fast, or to bring in clean cotton, cotton that doesn’t have a lot of leaves and shells in it. We pulled into a field and she started walking a row, showing us the difference. This 90-pound woman who is barely 5-feet-tall described how she could pick 300 pounds of cotton a day, or pull 700 pounds.

During the filming of this clip, a Texas state trooper pulled up and asked us what we were doing. Zelma, even at 77, recoiled at the big, young white man wearing a badge and a stetson confronting us because we were on private property. He agreed to let us finish filming, but insisted we leave the cotton in the field. Otherwise, he said, it would be theft. Nevertheless, Zelma took some cotton twigs to show her grandchildren in Kansas. She wanted to show them how she had spent her childhood, picking cotton.

We’ll post a conversation with Charles soon.

–Chris

Video of LaDainian and Chris on Tomlinson Hill

A short video of LaDainian and I on Tomlinson Hill is now available. This is an outtake from the April 2013 interview we did when NFL Films asked us to show them around the old slave plantation for “A Football Life: LaDainian Tomlinson.”

LaDainian had told me about his life and what he’d been taught about his family history in an earlier interview for the book, but this was the first time I had a chance to tell him what I had learned from my research. The film’s director, James Weiner, decided to make LaDainian’s discovery of his ancestors’ courage and leadership the overarching narrative of the film.

This clip captures us standing outside his grandmother’s dilapidated house on Tomlinson Hill on a cold, rainy day as I tell him about his great, great, great grandfather Milo who first took the Tomlinson name upon emancipation, and then about Milo’s grandson Vincent, who was a deacon, a mason and the unofficial mayor of Tomlinson Hill until his death in 1972.

LaDainian was born after his grandfather Vincent had died, so he didn’t know any of these stories. This is one of the most satisfying parts of writing the book and making the film is letting people know about their history.

As we prepare for the book launch, look for more videos from the interviews we conducted for the film and book. All of them are compiled on the interactive site, Voice of Marlin, and will be on file at the Baylor Institute for Oral History.

–Chris

Texas Monthly review of Tomlinson Hill – the book

The subject of race relations and slave history is so multi-layered, it is often difficult for media to digest and summarize with meaningful breadth. Texas Monthly has done a great job of doing just that. Check out the review at the link below:

http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/a-story-of-two-tomlinsons

Kirkus Review: “Cleareyed and Courageously Revealing”

A writer never knows whether they have effectively communicated their ideas until the reader responds.

That’s why reviews are useful. Sure, there are critics who bring an agenda to their reviews, but because a writer’s purpose is to share an idea and communicate a thought, what a reader takes from their work is important. If readers don’t get it, that’s the author’s fault.

I am deeply gratified that the early reviewers of Tomlinson Hill understand what I set out to do. My goal was to use my family’s history, and the story of the descendants of the people my ancestors enslaved, to examine the experiences of whites and blacks in America. As a journalist, I know that one person’s story can illustrate larger truths. I also know that the larger truths place the individual’s experiences in context.

The person who wrote the Kirkus review understood my greatest goal is to start the “honest conversation necessary to begin healing the centuries-old racial rifts that have marred American history.” Beginning July 23 in Austin, I’ll be taking that conversation to cities across Texas and hopefully beyond. I’ll use every means available to let everyone know those dates. Some are already posted here.

For now, I am just deeply grateful for all the people who’ve spent hours talking with me about this book over the last decade, who insights, reaction and wisdom went into Tomlinson Hill. This book would not be as “cleareyed and courageously revealing” without your coaching.

If you haven’t pre-ordered your copy, please use one of the links here to get your copy on July 22. Pre-orders help determine the first run, so every order helps!

Austin screening of Tomlinson Hill

The long-awaited Austin screening of Tomlinson Hill has a date and a location: Thursday, August 21st at the Carver Center. Chris’ new book will be hot off the presses and we couldn’t be more excited to share it all with you. Put it on your calendars and more details to follow!!

Dallas Screening, March 26th, 7pm. Join us!

We’re excited for the Junior League presentation of Tomlinson Hill tomorrow night (March 26th) in Dallas. Here’s the details if you’d like to join us! Chris and I will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. http://dallasfacesrace.com/events/junior-league-tomlinson-hill-screening/

Catch Tomlinson Hill in Indiana for Black History Month

Indiana Public Media, WTIU, will broadcast Tomlinson Hill for Black History Month on Feb. 20.

We’re proud that to be included with so many other great documentaries, including The March and Faith in the Hood.

Find out more about WTIU’s programs for Black History Month here.

Questions, a Photo and a Confession

By Chris Tomlinson

We screened the film Tomlinson Hill recently at Baylor University in Waco, and I was thrilled to see so many people from Marlin present. Afterward during the question and answer period, Lisa Kaselak and I got some hard questions about the choices we made in the film, all of them very thoughtful. One woman questioned whether we should have been more specific about how far Marlin is from Tyler, where we filmed an Aryan Nations rally. The answer is that the film is showing nationally, and most people viewing it outside of the state do not see much of a cultural difference between Marlin and Tyler. Another Marlin resident asked whether our film was making a meaningful contribution to the community, since much of the funding came from non-profit arts groups. All I could reply is that we have yet to make any money on this project, and the arts are a valid way to start a conversation and ultimately bring change to Falls County. Outsiders have offered dozens of economic development opportunities over the years, but until Marlin comes together as a single community, none of them will make any real difference.

One woman from Chilton arrived bearing a photo of my Great, Great, Great Uncle Augustus Tomlinson. Augustus was REL’s older brother and helped raise my great grandfather after their father James K. Tomlinson died in 1865. I will forever be grateful to Cynthia Montgomery for sharing this with me and allowing me to include it in the book. The photo was taken with Augustus’ wife Elizabeth Jane Landrum Tomlinson outside their house in Lott.

Small Augustus and Lizzie Tomlinson

A few Falls County residents lingered afterward to talk about race and racism growing up in Marlin. One woman told me that she’d been researching the history of Lott and had learned that the Tomlinsons had freed their slaves in Alabama, and the African Americans who came with my family to Texas were volunteers. She explained how this showed the Tomlinson’s enlightenment about race. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard similar stories told both by my relatives and other whites who trace their families to slaveholders. I was eight years-old when my grandfather told me how the former slaves loved us so much that they took our last name. I allowed this older woman a chance to finish this latest revelation about my family and took a deep breath before telling her it was a lie.

The 1860 slave schedules compiled by the Census clearly show that James K. Tomlinson owned the African Americans who worked on his plantation. The Census also shows no free blacks in all of Falls County. The African Americans living in Falls County were slaves until June 19, 1865 when Union troops took control of the state, thereby ending the Civil War. The woman, whom I prefer not to name, insisted that the oral history she had collected was true, and that she was including it in her book about the history of Lott. I told her that I was happy to share all of the documents I’d collected and I sympathized with her since I’d also heard similar fairy tales to cover up the crimes of my ancestors. I assured her that while the descendants of 19th century Tomlinsons may have believed the stories they were told, our ancestors were anything but enlightened. She said she would not change her book to reflect this newly revealed fact, she was sticking with what her sources told her. After all, look how sweet the couple in the photo above look.

Another woman told me about growing up in Falls County in the 1950s and 1960s and the segregation that kept white and blacks apart. She recognized how destructive and oppressive that policy was for all involved, and she condemned it and the racism of her youth. But before long she admitted that when she saw her teenage daughter spending time with African Americans her own age, she got upset. She said all of that training from her childhood still controlled her emotions. She even told her daughter that the parents of the black teens would be equally upset because they understood what a bad idea it was for the races to mix. This woman said her daughter laughed at her, told her that times had changed that she needed to change too. This woman told me it was hard to change after so many decades of seeing the world in a certain way. Her last words to me before she left the theater were, “I’m working on it, I really am. I’m working on it.”

This woman sums up what I believe is happening in America today. We know that racism is wrong and no one seriously argues that blacks are inferior. Yet so many Americans still feel the residual affects of our racist history. And like the amateur historian, the truth makes us uncomfortable, so we either deny it or we rewrite history. We all know that racism is wrong, so we adamantly denounce it while failing to seriously consider what the word means or how it manifests itself. Too many people think that condemning the Ku Klux Klan is all it takes to not be racist when it really involves so much more.

I’m not naming the woman who admitted to me that racism still influences her because she deserves some privacy to overcome these deep-seated emotions. I would also never call her a racist, because she knows its wrong and wants to overcome it. But like far too many white Americans, racism still shapes her world view. I admire her for owning up to it. I wish more people would.

Baylor Screening tomorrow

Great article featuring Chris and his book “Tomlinson Hill” at Monday’s screening at Baylor at 6:30 pm: http://t.co/SNVbveQpPy.