Seems Like Only Yesterday?

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Film Review

Have you ever noticed how many 20th Century African-American trailblazers

are referred to as the first to achieve this or that feat “since Reconstruction”?

For instance, Edward Brooke (R-MA) is known as the first Black elected
to the U.S. Senate “since Reconstruction.” Douglas Wilder (D-VA) is
celebrated as the first Black to serve as governor of a state, again,
“since Reconstruction.”

Why was that “since Reconstruction” qualifier so frequently attached to
modern African-American accomplishments? Simply because Blacks had
briefly made significant inroads after the Civil War only to have
everything taken away in the wake of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

For between the late 1860s and the 1920s, Black people were subjected
to a form of ethnic cleansing that Hitler would later use as a
precursor for the Holocaust.

The reign of terror which transpired partially helps explain the
geographical demographic pattern that left black people packed into the
country’s urban centers. The heartbreaking documentary Banished: How
Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America blows the sheets, pardon the
expression, off this long-hidden aspect of U.S. history.

The picture was directed by Marco Williams, an intrepid researcher who
has crisscrossed The South and Midwest, often putting himself in harm’s
way, to ask the tough questions and to unearth proof of a widespread
pattern of purging blacks from rural communities which persists to this

Typically, the evictions began with a lynching, followed by a threat
being leveled against every remaining African-American in the county at
gunpoint. They were forced to flee before sunrise with little more than
the clothes on their backs, often abandoning homes, businesses and
farms they owned.

Told never to set foot on their own property again, unless they also
wanted to be lynched, these refugees left, feeling lucky just to be
alive. The expulsions were invariably followed by the adoption of a
whites-only residential policy, and in the movie Marco accompanies some
still frightened descendants of the disenfranchised back to visit their
ancestors’ estates.

We see that many of these counties remain lily-white, such as Forsyth
County, Georgia. There, Williams interviews Phil Bettis, an
unsympathetic attorney who admits to helping Caucasians take legal
title to the lands once owned by Black citizens. “They slept on their
rights,” he rationalizes, blaming the victims. Ironically, this same
man is the head of the local “Biracial Committee” which is looking into
whether the relatives of the banished blacks ought to be eligible for
any reparations. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

They say The South has changed, but you wouldn’t know it from this jaw-dropping shocker you have to see to believe.


Excellent (4 stars). Unrated. Running time: 87 minutes. Studio: Working Films


Banished will premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in NYC on

June 21st at 6:30 PM. For more info, visit:

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