LOS ANGELES, June 20, 2015—”Counter Histories: Rock Hill” is being shown throughout 2015 on PBS stations as part of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. (Please check your local listings)
Directed by Frederick “Fr3deR1cK” Taylor, the documentary film chronicles the story of the Friendship 9 of Rock Hill, S.C. Named for the Friendship Junior College where most of the young men attended, Clarence Graham, Robert McCullough, John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, W.T. “Dub” Massey, James Frank Wells, Willie McCleod, David Williamson and Mack Workman hatched a plan to sit in at a “whites only” lunch counter in the segregated Jim Crow South. The Friendship 9 were promptly arrested for trespassing and thrown into jail. They faced trial immediately and were given a choice by the judge: a $100 fine or 30 days on the York County chain gang.
The young men chose the chain gang, which involved forced hard labor and would mean a permanent blemish on their previously unblemished records. The Friendship 9’s courage and willingness to stand their ground sparked the “Jail, No Bail” movement, which helped the already raging opposition to public segregation in the South.
It was 54 years later that these Friendship 9 protesters stood in the same court to have the unjust sentences lodged against them stricken from their record.
Director Taylor “wanted to be able to tell the story, I wanted to be able to show people that no matter who you are, no matter what you are, no matter what background you come from, you can overcome these obstacles, you can overcome these fears, these anxieties that we all go through every day. And this is just a tremendous opportunity to be able to use it as a vehicle to tell that story.”
Through his production company, Tomorrow Pictures, Inc., and with a grant from the Southern Foodways Alliance, the director took a fresh approach to documentary filmmaking. This approach included re-enactments with actors representing the young men in 1961 and the actual scene at the lunch counter, and modern interviews with the remaining members of the Friendship 9, Rock Hill mayor Doug Echols, and Brother David Boone, the sole white civil rights activist who helped the Friendship 9 mount their protest and handle their sentences. These interviews and re-enactments are expertly weaved with evocative imagery and traditional archival footage, and the most distinctive part is the lack of a narrator; the interviews and re-enactments moved the story forward, along with the undergirding of a riveting jazz soundtrack that augmented the Friendship 9’s monumental words and actions.
Taylor is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose projects have spanned the globe from the U.S. to Zambia, Romania and Mumbai, tackling subjects such as the pediatric AIDS epidemic in Romania, a redeemed gangster in Watts, a community in South Central Los Angeles and now the world of women’s boxing in his latest feature, “Boxing Chicks.” He graduated from Temple University’s documentary film program and has an M.A. in communications from Georgia State University. Along with his partner and executive producer Ellen Barnard, Tomorrow Pictures continues to find stories that matter, using a visual and auditory tool chest to produce documentaries, web content and television features.
Tomorrow Pictures has also produced a companion CD to the film of House and Hip-Hop music ribboned with sound bites from the major actors in the civil rights movement. A collaboration between Taylor, Los Angeles artist DJ Unieq and a group of club kids, the original tracks are innovative and crisp taking music and education to a different level.
“We wanted to do something that would connect maybe with an audience who wouldn’t listen to the jazz score that we have,” Barnard said. “So DJ Unieq worked with a really talented group of club kids. It’s all original stuff, and they were very inspired.”
The documentary film aired in February and March on South Carolina’s PBS station, SCETV, and in Los Angeles on KLCS-LA. Tomorrow Pictures has plans to air the documentary on other PBS stations nationwide and is also searching for more educational platforms, such as schools and libraries, for future distribution.
The film had two premieres in Los Angeles at the New Media Film Festival and the Charles Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills.
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