For several years, just outside of Monroe, Georgia at a bridge on Moore’s Ford Road, they’ve been reenacting a horrific moment from the area’s past.
On the anniversary of a 1946 lynching, black actors playing the four victims (one a pregnant woman) and whites playing the lynch mob, recreate a monstrous, barbaric unsolved crime, one that came on the heels of a visit by a virulently racist, KKK loving gubernatorial candidate.
They stage this awful thing every year, activists say, to keep its memory alive and perhaps stir someone to tell what they know so that the criminals names can be made public.
So far, in Monroe, where white folks interviewed in the film “Always in Season” lament the reenactment and gripe about “leaving the past alone,” nobody’s talked.
Nobody is talking up in Bladenboro, N.C., either. That’s where in August of 2014 a black teenager and popular football player, 17 year-old Lennon Lee Lacy, was found hanging from a swing-set in a playground just off one of the main roads in town.
As family members, a local mortician, a lawyer and others relate, his death was instantly labeled a suicide.
A photographer who worked for the medical examiner had his camera confiscated. The crime scene wasn’t secured and the family waited for days while the inept, incompetent or willfully obtuse local police department was “closed,” and did nothing.
“Not a hate crime,” the local police chief asserts. But Claudia Lacy remembers Lennon’s grave being desecrated mere days after the funeral.
The belts Lennon was found hanging from were not his, his mother adds.
Lacy’s family demands answers. Filmmaker Jacqueline Olive’s “Always in Season” cannot provide them.
But in 89 minutes of historical analysis, eyewitness testimony and Danny Glover reading newspaper accounts, letters and “an invitation” to the planned lynching of Claude Neal, a Marianna Florida man accused (with no evidence linking him directly to the crime) in the disappearance of a young white woman in 1934, we’re given plenty of reasons to wonder about this teenager’s death thanks to its parallels to the crimes that came before it.
Academic lynching experts such as Sherilynn Ifill of the NAACP note the general nature of the crimes — grisly mutilations of the victims while they were still living, bodies displayed in public places, often photographed with a sometimes grinning, celebrating white mob in the shot.
Sweeping these events, common from the end of the Civil War until the late 1950s, under the rug of “the past” does not do them justice, Ifill says. Local people alive back then saying “We didn’t know” is a lie.
The photographs and historical record “condemn the white community,” she adds. “They DID know.”
The Claude Neal lynching may be the most glaring proof of that. Newspapers ran an Associated Press account of the crime which labeled it, in appearance, as “A Hanging Bee,” a play on rural America’s tradition of community engagement through “quilting bees” and the like.
The daughter of a Klan official recalls, as a little girl, the many rallies and cross burnings she was taken to. There were plenty of “other kids to play with” at the events, she remembers. Even at the one where a man was lynched, her mother covering her mouth to keep her from crying out in horror.
The white grandson of a Ku Klux Klan member who once infiltrated the Klan on behalf of Klan watch groups and later volunteered to play a member of the Monroe lynch mob in reenactments declares that “We all need to keep doing what we can if we think we can make a difference.”
Filmmaker Olive saves some of the possible evidence that Lennon Lacy was lynched for the third act, and the denouement — demands for state and Federal investigation of the case — provides nobody with closure.
But the contrasts in Bladenboro laid out in the film’s opening, older white folks saying “Everybody gets along,” the local historical society president, the mayor and others using “an ‘Andy Griffith’ feel” to describe the place (one black actor appeared in the entire run of “The Andy Griffith Show”), could not be more stark. Images of Confederate flags hanging from garages and “Blue Lives Matter” signs parked in many a white yard signal the divide.
The local newspaper editor has prominently played-up anything new in the case that’s come to light, but confesses that with a tiny staff and in a small town, where the police department itself isn’t equipped, professionally or temperamentally, to dig into this, there’s nothing he can do short of keeping the story alive.
And still, Claudia Lacy’s words stick with you.
“Think about it, if it was your son or daughter…How far would you go? How soon would you get it go?”
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence images
Cast: Claudia Lacy, Pierre Lacy, William J. Barber II, the voice of Danny Glover
Credits: Directed by Jacqueline Olive, script by Don Bernier, Jacqueline Olive. A Multitude Films/POV release.
Running time: 1:29