“Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power” opens with interviews with men and women who grew up in the titular county of Alabama in the 1960s. The black people interviewed, children of sharecroppers, evoke an atmosphere of poverty, racism and bloody violence; their white counterparts, members of landowning families, remember a “peaceful, almost idyllic place”.
These divergent versions of life in Lowndes set the stage for Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir’s documentary, which traces the story of how one of America’s most inequitable and fiercely segregated counties came to be. to a national movement for black power. In 1965, Lowndes had no registered black voters, despite its population being 80% black. Trustees follow the waves of change that began when a local man, John Hulett, began organizing black voters, culminating in the founding of a new party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, with an influential symbol: the panther black.
The film unveils one of the many micro-histories of the civil rights movement. Notably, Lowndes did not see the sustained involvement of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; instead, his grassroots struggle attracted the Stokely Carmichael-led Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which took a more grassroots — and more radical — approach.
Yet the power of the collective, more than that of any individual, is at the center of attention here. The film is anchored with the striking faces of Lowndes residents and organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who recall a series of moving details – from setting up camp in a house with no running water to internal debates over the term “black power”. The archival footage, too, mixes protest images with everyday scenes, illustrating the simple acts of community that underlie any political movement.
Lowndes County and the Black Power Route
Unclassified. Duration: 1h30. In theaters.