Louis Massiah/Scribe Video Center

Louis Massiah, acclaimed documentarian and community video pioneer, visited Virginia Tech a few days ago. What an inspiration.

Among the works Massiah screened was a segment from Power!, one episode from the Eyes on the Prize II series. In the segment, we are told the story of Carl B. Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city. To say this video — produced in the 80s, about a man that broke ground in the 60s — was timely would be an understatement. If you want insight into this year’s presidential election, including the racial (and racist) strategies being employed by opponents of Barack Obama, it’s a must-see. (Search for it in a local library here.)

Still, even more impressive, was hearing Massiah discuss and screen work produced by Scribe Video Center. Massiah founded Scribe in 1982, and occupies a central place in Philadelphia media-making. If you don’t know about it and you’re interested in community storytelling (and empowerment) through video, dig into their website. Scribe has been around for 26 years, which is a phenomenal achievement, particularly considering the fate of so many other media arts organizations (from the Film Arts Foundation to AIVF). More importantly, they’ve changed lives through storytelling. Great stuff.

One Response to “Louis Massiah/Scribe Video Center”

  1. b kenneth mcgee Says:

    Forty years ago in 1967 Carl B. Stokes was elected the first black Mayor of a major American city. I was the operations manager of that campaign along with my partner Ge
    raldine Willliams. In 1965, Stokes had run and almost won in a city that was 70% white and 30% black. In 1965 he had come so close to winning that there was a recount. His victory in 67 was hailed as one the greatest moments in the civil rights struggle and also a triumph of the brotherhood of man. Partially, yes—-partially, no. In the 1965 campaign there were practically no white votes for Stokes. In 67 there was only 15%. Not exactly a triumph for the brotherhood of man.! In fact, in 1965 I was his “white” aide and traveling companion to show not only the white community, but also just as importantly the black community that he had white support. Many in the black community said “it’s not time”—he’s not ready—will he win and bring disgrace to the community—will he be killed by the racists” Do these same sentiments sound familiar in 2007?
    Also, in 1965 he was up against a potent political machine, one that regularly ”bought off” members of the black community. There were city councilman and black pastors all of whom had ties to the white establishment. Sound familiar in 2007?
    In both 1965 and 1967 it was the black community that turned out in large numbers and then voted 97% for Stokes. He still lost in 1965 because the councilman and pastors disaffected some of the black vote but it was so close that in 1967 and with the blessing of the establishment he won—-but by a very small margin. Again, it was the black turnout and overwhelming percentage of vote in his favor that carried the day.
    How does Barack Obama’s campaign of 2007 differ from those two campaigns of long ago? He is running against the establishment (the Clinton machine) and there are black ”leaders” that are staying with the establishment. Polls are showing that many in the black community are saying the same things that they said in 1965—–it’s not time—he’s not ready—he will be killed if he is elected. Are these sentiments carried down through time going to defeat him in 2007?
    Here is the reason that the campaigns are not alike. The white support for Obama is huge compared to the white support for Stokes forty years ago. Who would have dreamed then that a black man running for the President of the United States could garner such white support, attract such crowds, and be so close to winning. When I see campaign crowds, I see a sea of white faces cheering him and I see a much different time than that of 1965 & 1967.
    Following is an example from the 1965 campaign. It shows how extraordinary the idea of a black mayor (there are now hundreds) was to the black community at that time.
    The last weekend before the election we had a parade through the streets of the East Side of Cleveland. It wasn’t much of a parade, as parades go, a handful of cars with balloons and banners on the them, horns honking, people waving, and Carl and is wife sitting on the back of the last car. I was in the front seat. As the caravan pulled past the corner, there was a small boy about ten or eleven standing in the middle of a group of children. The cars had been going past honking with signs “Stokes for Mayor” on the sides. As the car with Stokes sitting on the back came to the corner the boy stood straight up, his eyes widened at the sight of Carl and he cried out, “HE’S COLORED.” He started to clap his hands and jump up and down. “HE’S COLORED, HE’S COLORED,” he cried out to no one in particular. “HE’S COLORED, HE’S COLORED” and he started to skip down the street after the car. I looked back as the cars picked up speed and left the little boy in the distance. He was still running and clapping his hands. I turned around to Carl and caught a very different expression on his face, part smile and part a distant look in his eyes. “I think it’s all been worthwhile,” I said. A quick but soft-spoken reply, “Yes, I think you’re right.” That’s how it was back then. A little boy thought, “this couldn’t be—–his parents and grandparents thought—could this possibly be? And a city and a nation wondered if history was in the making.
    I sometimes wonder where that little boy is now, forty years later. What about his children and grandchildren? Does he remember how he felt that day? Does he remember the wonderment of seeing a black man siting on the top of a convertible, his skipping down the street in that wonderment of a black man striving for the impossible? How do his children and grandchildren feel today? Will they participate in today’s “impossible dream”?
    Now, forty years later I see the crowds, more white than black, cheering a man of color. Now, forty years later, I see polls showing that this man of color could likely be the next President of the United States. I see now, forty years later, that dreams do come true——-and a little boy of so long ago could still clap, skip down the street and cry out—-“He’s colored—He’s colored—- he’s colored”.
    Will the black community support Obama as we Irish Catholics did for John Kennedy in 1960, as the Mormons will do for Mitt Romney this year, as every ethnic group has done for their history making candidates since the country began. It is the black vote that can insure victory for Barack Obama. This is the year. This is the time. This is history in the making.

    The face of The United States of America is about to change.

    for interview:
    Ken McGee, Author
    Eyes Shut Tight