In 1965, filmmaker Frank De Felitta produced a documentary for NBC News about racial tensions in Greenwood, a small town on the Mississippi Delta, during the height of the Civil Rights movement. While many African-Americans in the town were afraid to meet with the crew, one man threw aside caution and spoke to the camera. Booker Wright—owner of a restaurant called Booker’s Place and a well-known waiter at a prominent “whites only” establishment—delivered a heartfelt and stirring account of the demeaning nature of his work (catering to a demanding white customer base), the prejudices he faced on a daily basis, and his worries about his family’s future. His raw confession, spoken directly into the camera, shocked the people of Greenwood and the nation. Soon after, he lost his two livelihoods, suffered beatings, and was eventually murdered.
Nearly five decades later, Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story follows Raymond De Felitta as he journeys through past and present-day Mississippi with Yvette Johnson, Booker’s granddaughter. Together, they explore this unlikely activist’s life, the events leading up to this death, and the impact that the NBC News documentary had on not just the local community, but on Raymond’s own father as well.
Booker Wright’s part in the Civil Rights movement has garnered little recognition over the years, but that is about to change. The Dateline NBC special airing this Sunday demonstrates the power Booker’s inspirational story still holds, even many decades later. The broadcast also raises critical questions about the so-called “post-racial” America that we live in today.