Worlds Collide

P.O.V. discovers Two Towns of Jasper for PBS

Here's a black-and-white rhetorical question for you: How many people of the opposite race do you socialize with regularly? Schoolmates, co-workers, your kids' friends and fellow church members you see on Sunday don't count.

We suspect that it's not many. And we don't say this meanly, since the same is true of us. Decades after the death of Jim Crow, America has done much to make a more equal society. But are we that much less separate?

On Wednesday, the PBS series P.O.V. premieres Two Towns of Jasper, a grim, fascinating documentary about the aftermath of the murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a truck by three white supremacists and dragged to his death in 1998. Byrd was beheaded during the lynching, which shocked the world and left many wondering exactly what sort of people lived in the East Texas town.

The road where James Byrd Jr. met his death at the hands of three white supremacists
The road where James Byrd Jr. met his death at the hands of three white supremacists

Details

Airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KERA-Channel 13. On Thursday, ABC News' Nightline will air a follow-up featuring a live town meeting in Jasper, America in Black and White: Jasper, Texas. Nightline is broadcast locally at 10:35 p.m. on WFAA-Channel 8. Thursday's Nightline will appear simultaneously on KERA as well.

Filmmakers Whitney Dow, who is white, and Marco Williams, who is black, traveled to Jasper to find out. The two friends segregated their camera crews, with Dow interviewing the whites and Williams the blacks. What they found is a town that is fairly well integrated in its public life--the mayor of Jasper is black--but split by race by almost any other measure. Despite calls for unity after the Byrd murder, attitudes toward the crime varied widely by race. For blacks, the lynching was horrible, but not too surprising given the region's history. For whites, it was a horrible anomaly that unfairly tainted their community. Two worlds living side by side in the same town. Mostly civil to one another, but separate.

Sound familiar?

 
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