Jackie Olive thought she had finished her documentary, years in the making, about the impact of lynching in America.
Then, she heard about Lennon Lacy.
The Bladenboro teen was found hanging from two belts in a predominantly white trailer park in the rural town Bladen County town late last year. Law enforcement ruled the death a suicide; his family and many in the community suspect it was a racially motivated murder.
“This happened shortly after Ferguson, and I was already connecting the dots between the history of racial violence to today,” Olive noted.
Intrigued–and following the path of racial reconciliation that runs through her documentary, “Always in Season”–Olive applied to be this year’s Cucalorus artist in residence, was accepted, packed up for the summer and headed to Wilmington via Pensacola, Florida, to gather more footage for her film.
She is in the midst of an Indie GoGo campaign to raise $20,000 for additional filming in Bladenboro, as well as editing toward a rough cut of the public television documentary. With a deadline of Aug. 7, the campaign has garnered nearly $4,000. Clips of the film can be viewed on the Indie GoGo page, including a recent interview with Bree Newsome, the Charlotte activist who was arrested last month after scaling the metal pole at the South Carolina capitol to remove the Confederate flag.
When Lacy’s death made national news, Olive felt an instant connection to the 17-year-old and his family. For one, it was a story that she had heard so many times before in her experience as a black woman in the south–and in the years she spent doing research. Returning to her Mississippi roots in recent years, she said five similarly suspicious hangings of black men occurred–with similar conclusions from police.
“Sadly, it was not a surprise to me. It wasn’t unimaginable, even now,” she said.
But Lacy’s story, in particular, resonated on a deeper level–Olive’s son was the same age as Lacy.
It was her son that indirectly helped push her towards filmmaking. Struggling with what to do as a career–she had stints on public radio, as a firefighter, working for an airline–the birth of her son, and all the thousands of photographs of him that followed, made her realize her passion for capturing images.
After working behind the camera at an NBC affiliate in Florida, Olive eventually went back to school to earn her master’s degree in documentary filmmaking in 2007.
“Always in Season” itself was inspired by a series of photographs, “Without Sanctuary,” which graphically depicted lynchings in American history.
“Those images stuck with me…I know about the dehumanization that happened, and that line just goes on. All of these [victims], I carry them with me. I can’t pretend it didn’t happen,” Olive said.
There are about 5,000 documented incidents of lynching in this country, but Olive said a team of scholars advising her on “Always in Season” believe the actual number is two to three times that figure.
For her documentary, Olive zoomed in on three communities in different stages of dealing with the legacy of racial terrorism and reconciliation of a dark, and oft undiscussed, shared past.
The first, Monroe, Georgia, is the site of a horrific quadruple hanging in 1946 of two young black couples off a dirt road near a bridge. No one was ever arrested for the crimes, and family members living there today are still working to find justice. The case was reopened by the FBI in 1992 based on new witness testimony and remains ongoing.
And Georgia citizens of all races banded together in the late 90s to memorialize the victims with, among other initiatives, an annual reenactment of the lynchings.
There, Olive met and interviewed Olivia Taylor, who, at just three years old, was taken to witness the murders by her father, a Klu Klux Klan member. Taylor now participates in the re-enactment.
“She was 68 when I met her and she has been carrying this around her whole life. She is looking to find healing for her and for her community,” Olive said.
And that’s the thing with “Always in Season.” Olivia doesn’t just want to retell the stories of lynchings from a black perspective; in order to reach true reconciliation, to make real cultural progress, she said all voices must be heard.
“The spectators are the ones who interest me the most. Those are the ones we don’t often hear from. I realized they might not understand me and my experience, but there is also a lot I don’t understand about them,” she said.
In Duluth, Minnesota, Olive tells the story of Warren Read, who accidentally discovered his own diseased family tree while researching his roots.
Read wrote “The Lyncher in Me” after discovering his great-grandfather had incited a 1920 riot that led to the lynching of three black men falsely accused of raping a white woman. He also helped get a monument in honor of the three victims erected, and remained active after the unveiling on a corresponding committee that works to educate people about the incident, and racial violence in general.
“So, there in Duluth, you see that they have moved beyond just feeling good,” Olive said. “I don’t see the healing as much in Monroe as I do in Duluth.”
And Laurens, South Carolina, is a long way from healing, too, she added. There, Olive has documented the recent legal battle by one man–the Rev. David Kennedy–to rightfully claim a property that has, for decades, housed The Redneck Shop, which sells, among other items, white satin KKK robes and confederate flag bikinis.
“I found that very few people there wanted to talk about it,” she said.
But a healthy and honest dialogue is what Olive hopes to accomplish with “Always in Season.” And it’s why she can’t just let the story of Lennon Lacy remain untold.
“What is at least as important in this is that the family has the right to question what happened and to have law enforcement look into it,” she said. “That, for me, is the outrage; they have the right.”
In November, District Attorney John David issued a statement regarding the case, saying the N.C. Bureau of Investigation and the Bladenboro Police Department had investigated but concluded that his office had not been “presented with any evidence to suggest that there was any foul play in the death of Lennon Lacy.”
Olive has already extensively interviewed the Lacy family, but she plans to soon return to Bladenboro to hear from police and prosecutors on the case.
She’ll have a rough cut of “Always in Season” this summer and, as part of the process, wants to create a community engagement program in Wilmington. Olive will also continue screening a 40-minute cut of the film locally ahead of its scheduled completion in spring 2016.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.