An American Story: Margaret Brown and Joycelyn Davis on Descendant | Interviews

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JD: Well, we filmed under the bridge, which is a sacred spot, you know? All of us in the Africatown community are familiar with that place. And it’s a safe place. It’s a place where you can meditate. So I really didn’t have a problem with that space. It was perfect.

A component of the film that I found incredible was the VHS tapes of interviews with some previous, now deceased descendants that were held by Dr Jackson. Margaret, how did you stumble onto what are essentially time capsules?

MB: Oh man. Dr. Kern Jackson. I’ve known him for a really long time. I knew about the tapes. But he kind of downplayed them. And then when we went to his office on that day to film, he wanted to do the interview in his chair’s office so it looked all perfect. But I always go and meet Kern in his office, which looks like a folklorist office–which is messy. Kern is like an absent-minded genius, you know? So I was like: Can we please just shoot in your office? This is ridiculous. This other reality is not your life. So we went to his office and he just started pulling out the tapes and we were all like: What the…? You’ve been holding out on us

I’d seen some of them at the library because some of them are digitized there, but he had more in his office than I’d ever seen. And I was just like: Don’t rewind that. Is this backed up anywhere? And he was like: I don’t know. I just wanna show it to you. I was overwhelmed by the richness of the material. We were so shocked at how insane this footage was. I think it is now all backed up. I don’t know Joycelyn if you know if it was backed up at the time. Do you know?

JD: I dunno. But I was elated to see that footage because my grandmother is in that and my aunt is in that too. And my cousin, she’ll be 25 next month, she’s in there. And I’ve always wanted to see actual footage of the festivals in Lewis Quarters. And just to see my grandmother, she went to be with the Lord in 2010. So just seeing her and my great-grandmother’s house, with all of the quilts and everything hanging outside was amazing. That was filmed in 1999. My great-grandmother passed in 1997.

That’s unbelievable. And speaking of figures from the past, at one point, Michael Foster, the descendent of Captain Foster, appears at Joycelyn’s festival. Margaret, when did you know that Michael was going to show up?

MB: We knew he was in town because he was filming with “60 Minutes” and Joycelyn can speak to that more than I can because “60 Minutes” did not want me anywhere near that crew. We didn’t know if he was gonna come to Joycelyn’s festival. And then he showed up and I think my producer, Essie [Chambers] was like: Is that Mike Foster? Either Kyle [Martin], my other producer, or Essie went over to figure out if that was him. I think he was trying to keep a low profile, but then we started filming him. I’d never met him before that moment. 


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