The documentary begins with elder residents of the county describing what it was like living there, and immediately a discrepancy is apparent. While white residents describe “an idyllic place,” Black residents recall the county’s nickname: Blood Lowndes. With an 80% Black population subjected to violence, poverty, and no voting rights, it became a breeding ground for relentless activism and the emergence of a new symbol: The Black Panther.
“Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power” investigates the development of alternate parties and organizations, largely the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, and the Black Panther Party. The documentary effectively declares the idea of differentiation from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the paradigm that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” It is affecting in depicting the organization and teamwork that bolstered the movement and confidence of the oppressed residents of Lowndes County, and how it was not only the activists, but the citizens, that made it happen.
The documentary’s format expresses a love and admiration for this unification. It takes just as much time expounding on the political moments, the tragic moments, and the social moments, as it holds a microphone to the everyday allyship and friendship that held the collective together. Whether creating comic books together to express complex political ideas or drag racing together in cars, the human aspect of these individuals is not made secondary to their activism. Beautiful portraiture and archival footage of the everyday lives in Lowndes County reminds the viewer that these citizens are people first: they are not symbols, they are not ideas, and they are not inseparable from their cause.
“Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power” distinguishes the difference between passed legislation and accessible legislation, and how the goal of integration does not fulfill the need for power. In threading a wide amalgam of sources, the documentary pointedly captures the nuances of the Civil Rights Movement, outlines the political and power structures at its core, and does not neglect to give credence to the many historical details. It’s expertly organized and seamlessly edited, making the many transitions between time and ideology undetectable amid the narrative. While it is impossible to be all-encompassing of one of the greatest social movements in history, “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power” is magnificently detailed, but not dense, throughout its slight 90-minute runtime.