The film talks about the historically black area and its beginnings with the Homestead Act and the Shake Rag neighborhood. It follows the neighborhoods through the times of growth and unity, then climaxes with the 1991 “Operation Heartache” drug bust involving 125 federal, state and local law enforcement agents descending on four blocks of the North Green Street area in a four-day sting operation.
It’s hard to hear people blame the neighborhoods’ problems on “these kids” and poor parenting, narrates James in the film.
“Those are our kids, too, and we can mentor and provide for them now or our tax money will pay their rations in a state institution,” James narrated.
Alexander said the drugs seemed to come in from larger surrounding areas along the highways and Tupelo was used as an access point to Oxford and the University of Mississippi.
The film points out that while the drugs began as an outside problem, the young people of the neighborhoods were fertile soil.
After Saturday’s screening of the documentary at the C.C. Augustus Center, Lowell Walker Jr. talked about his fond memories of the neighborhood when he was a boy.
“I actually cried as a little boy when I saw them destroying the Shake Rags,” he recalled of the neighborhood that was demolished as part of an urban renewal project. “It was sad because, to me, it seemed as though we had so little and yet we still had so much.
“I remember when we had unity and we had love. If Mr. Jones had a bushel of corn, we had some corn, too. It seems as though this is a very rich community, and we had a great vision, and I wonder what became of the vision.”
Walker challenged those in attendance to take the documentary to heart and use it to make a difference in the community by reaching out to young people.
The film is a part of a series in progress called the Gumtree Chronicles.
James said the idea started when her grandson began working on a Black History Month report.
“It was kind of odd that we had no history to speak of from right around us,” she said. “We wanted it so our children could have something to reference and know what not to do.”
More information about the series can be found at www.GumtreeChronicles.com.