Learning from history was the theme during a recent screening of a film at the Longview Public Library that chronicled violent race riots that took place 100 years ago in East Texas and across the nation.
“Foote Switch," a short film written and produced by Longview author and resident Mandel Stoker, is a fictional account inspired by true events. The movie is based on Stoker’s book, “Foote Switch: An Untold Love Story.”
The movie tells the story of a relationship between a black man who had moved to Longview and a white woman from Kilgore. The story takes place just before the Red Summer race riots of July 1919, which resulted in one death and the imposition of martial law in Longview.
Stoker’s book and short film draw inspiration from the murder of Lemuel Walters, who was killed June 17, 1919, after he was beaten by two white Kilgore men who accused him of improperly propositioning their sister. After the beating, Walters was jailed and later killed by a lynch mob.
The story of the violence was reported in the Chicago Defender newspaper, bringing nationwide attention to the slaying.
The title “Foote Switch” was inspired by the name of a location between Longview and Kilgore where Walters’ body was found after he was murdered.
Master of ceremonies Terrell Edwards opened the screening event with a quote from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Stoker followed Edwards’ welcome with a reading of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by author Langston Hughes, and poet Princess Miles recited her original poem, “If All Were Blue.” Lakeshia Jarrett then sang Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit.”
After the screening, Stoker said he had been encouraged to show his film in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer race riots.
“The reason they called it ‘Red Summer’ was because of all the bloodshed at that time. There were riots all over the country,” Stoker said.
Audience members expressed their feelings about the importance of telling the story of Lemuel Walters by showing “Foote Switch” to audiences new and old alike.
“It’s important for the young people, because that’s what everything grows from," Edwards said. "It’s important for the old people who saw this to tell the young people better solutions to solve the situations that went on and why they went on and to pave new roads, to provide better options and to present more love in these situations.”
Paulette Goree said the film was important because it can teach history to a new generation.
“It’s history, and the conditions that our world is in today, it’s just like history is repeating itself. Young people need to know about their history. I think it’s very important that our young people learn where they came from and, hopefully … we can learn how to get along and love each other,” she said.
Frankie Mitchell said he felt the film was important because the events of Red Summer are rarely discussed these days.
“I think it’s so important because our young people are not familiar with history. It’s not really spoken about or talked about because a lot of our older relatives have passed away. The film will bring light to our history, a history that has been forgotten about. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, and a lot of those that could, have passed away, so this is a way of reintroducing our history to this new generation.”
Stoker’s book, "Foote Switch: An Untold Love Story," is available for purchase on Amazon.