RACE OR REASON: THE BELLPORT DILEMMA
Betty Puleston, Lynne Jackson
Produced by George C. Stoney
color, 59 min, 2003
Also available on DSL and DVD
“If you get involved in the community when growing up, and adults listen, you’ll feel empowered and never forget it.” — Betty Puleston
In 1969-70, when race riots were sweeping across America in the wake of the civil rights movement, Bellport, a small town on Long Island, NY, was caught in the storm. The town was divided between its poor African-American and Puerto Rican population and affluent whites. The local high school became the scene of angry confrontations, resulting in its temporary closure and a police presence.
The house of community resident Betty Puleston was being used as a meeting place where black, white and Latino students could air their grievances. To help out, she gave the students two port-a-pac video cameras following a concept introduced by the National Film Board of Canada. The hope was that media could be used to facilitate dialog. That hope was realized, as the students recorded their concerns and felt empowered by being able to question adults in their community.
Thirty years later, these same students regroup to view the tapes. Despite the crude production values of these early black and white tapes, the images clearly reveal the passion of the young activists who felt that minority rights could no longer be ignored. We learn that the students have gone on to lead productive lives — a social worker, lawyer, community organizer and a policeman are among them.
This film will introduce today’s youth to the civil rights problems of the 70’s, where suburban schools, even in the North, did not employ African-American teachers nor teach black history. It will inspire students, learning that they can make a difference as their predecessors did, and it will show how effective media can be to facilitate conflict resolution.