Melvin Calvert in South Carolina
The only known full-length copy of A Different Dixie, housed at the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina, is not a final copy as it lacks titles and credits and was probably a working copy. The rest of the films housed at MIRC, which came from SC-ETV, are the original camera footage from the project and consist of both film and magnetic media from the filming that occurred for this production, including outtakes (footage that was never used in the final film).
The film opens with journalist Tom Wicker’s introduction to the “new” South of the early to mid 1980s. Wicker highlights the roll of industry in the South’s change, which provided a good living for many residents.
As folk music plays, a montage of Southern whites, mostly poor and religious in nature, transitions the documentary to its first subject, Rev. Melvin Calvert. The first third of the film features Calvert and his congregation at Green Street United Methodist Church, believed to be in Columbia, SC. This section begins with voiceovers of a “rap group” staged at Calvert’s home with white members of the community, most likely members of his congregation, discussing the current state of race relations. The voiceovers highlight fears of interracial marriage and concerns about affirmative action, white guilt, and the innate prejudice in all humans. The film then details Calvert’s early life in Spartanburg as a textile worker and shortly thereafter as soldier in the Korean War. His wartime service among African-Americans begins Calvert’s transformation from an admitted racist to reformed racist. Although he admits he was not ready for King’s movement, Calvert discusses at length how Martin Luther King, Jr. initially reinforced his racism but then inspired him to join a seminary to combat his personal racist views and challenge those around him in the region. He also details the church’s focus in preventing eternal damnation for its parishioners rather than reforming social issues. The Calvert portion of the film ends with more rap group voiceovers. It is clear that although Calvert has attempted to use his pulpit to ease racial tensions among his congregation, many in his flock are reluctant to embrace African-American relationships outside the workplace or beyond acquaintances.
The second third of the film primarily revolves around the work of Mississippi organizer and activist Charles Bannerman. He discusses economic losses in the black community, such as those in the service industry, as a result of integration. His goal is bringing more industrial jobs to formerly agricultural regions of Greenville, Mississippi. He traces problems in developing these jobs and how he managed to create successful relationships with local white banks to initially fund and garner long-term support for his endeavors. Churches were also instrumental in raising funds. The Fine Vines jeans plant and a railroad spike plant are just two examples of factories created by the non-profit organization the Delta Foundation run by Bannerman. Other businesses include a radio station, night club, cable companies and restaurants. Talented and well-educated subordinates and leaders working for Bannerman, who normally would flee rural Mississippi for better work opportunities, are also interviewed. Despite some successes, many of the plants face temporary closure as they struggle to stay afloat in a business world were only 2% of black businesses are incorporated. One devil’s advocate notes that some Southern factories are little more than modern-day sweatshops, relying heavily on cheap labor, typically from minority women.
Lastly, the film then transitions to Atlanta by using a slow montage of agriculture that is quickly replaced by a quick moving montage featuring industry. Several voiceovers and snippets of interviews discuss how much industry has replaced agriculture in the South in the last ten to fifteen years. As such, small farms that once accommodated twelve families have transitioned to one large corporate farm with a few workers and modern machinery. The South’s attempt to draw northern industrialists for cheap, non-union wages is also frequently mentioned as is the debate about the value of “right to work” states. As the film settles into the stark changes in Atlanta in the last thirty-five years, including the demise of Jim Crow laws and customs and the creation of a major airport, locals discuss the rise of black representation in local government from Mayor Andrew Young to a black fire chief and African-American city council members. Much of these public debates about racial progress in Atlanta are filmed in Manuel Maloof’s bar “Manny’s.” Maloof, who welds a great deal of power in Atlanta as a major political figure, often initiates conversions with patrons in his bar to illustrate how Atlanta has nearly perfected racial accommodation and a biracial political system. This is buttressed with scenes of a biracial and bustling city hall. Footage of Peachtree Plaza and other local businesses demonstrate Atlanta’s economic success in the 1980s. Many interviewed also stress that despite Atlanta’s successes, there is still tension between black Americans who have gained power at the expense of those whites who lost it. Furthermore, although African-Americans are making great strides in local politics and middle management, few black board members existed and more black members of middle management are needed.
Tom Wicker closes the documentary by warning that despite Atlanta’s successes, poverty, economic exploitation, racial fears, social upheaval, cultural collision and urban malaise suggest the South’s problems are far from resolved. The success of new industry has not been enough to end hundreds of years of racial issues. Moreover, not everyone believes these industrial changes are for the best as they have often yielded twice the productivity for half of the wages. The documentary draws to a close with a brief montage and voiceovers from interviewees such as Calvert.
Also included in the collection is extensive footage of Birmingham, Alabama, apparently focusing on Sophia Bracy Harris and her work with FOCAL (Federation of Childcare Centers of Alabama). This footage did not appear in the edited documentary.
This collection has been processed. Materials available upon request.
For more information contact curator Lydia Pappas at PAPPASL@mailbox.sc.edu.
16 cans of film
Part of the Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) Repository
707 Catawba Street
Columbia SC 29208