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Black Men’s Month: Appreciating Filmmaker Reverend Solomon Sir Jones | WATCH

Rev. Solomon Sir Jones
Reverend Solomon Sir Jones

*Before we tell you about Rev. Solomon Sir Jones, we need to provide some background. The host of a worldwide televangelist program – which shall remain nameless – once stated: “Blacks vote Democrat because they want a handout.” It seems to be the belief of many far-right White Republicans that Blacks are “lazy” and dependent on the government for their needs.

However, if the truth be told, there were historically many thriving Black communities that were unjustly disrupted and/or destroyed by White bigotry. There’s a line in the Bob Marley song “I Shot The Sheriff” that goes: “Sheriff John Brown always hated me/For what, I don’t know/Every time I plant a seed/He said kill it before it grows.”

Sometimes visuals can tell a story better than mere words. So, to further dispel those bigoted beliefs, I’d like to spotlight a filmmaker of yesteryear – Reverend Solomon Sir Jones (1869 – 1936). A Baptist minister, successful businessman, and amateur filmmaker; Jones was born in Tennessee to former slaves. He grew up in the South and in 1889 moved to Oklahoma where he became a minister – building and pastoring 15 churches.

Now preserved in the Yale University Collection Library, The Solomon Sir Jones Films consist of 29 black & white films documenting Black Oklahoma communities from 1924 to 1928. The total footage is 12,800 feet (355 minutes). Jones filmed Blacks in their homes; on their jobs; during social, school, and church activities; and in businesses that they owned. The films document thriving communities including Okmulgee, Muskogee, Wewoka, Bristow, Taft, and Tulsa where the 1921 massacre took place.

That massacre resulted in the killing of hundreds of residents, burned more than 1250 homes, and erased years of Black success. In response to the race riot, Republican President Warren Harding said, “Despite the demagogues, the idea of our oneness as Americans has risen superior to every appeal to mere class and group…and so, I wish it might be in this matter of our national problem of races.”

To name a few, other similar massacres of note include Colfax Louisiana 1873; Wilmington, North Carolina 1898; Atlanta, Georgia 1906; Elaine, Arkansas 1919; and Rosewood, Florida 1923.

America was mostly Republican in the 1920s, but as the population became more urban, the country became more Democratic during the Great Depression underscored by President Franklin Roosevelt’s formation of a coalition called the “New Deal.”

The films also document Jones’s trips to various U.S. states like Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas; and overseas trips to places like France, England, Africa, Italy, and Germany.

Jones collected images of people by positioning himself outside of buildings (especially churches and schools) and getting close-ups as they exited, so some viewers may see actual footage of relatives and friends from that era.

Larry Buford
Larry Buford

Larry Buford is a contributing writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon). Email: [email protected]

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