The Personal Side of Black History (Mormon Style)

When we premiered Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons last Saturday at the LDS Film Festival, our senior editor, Jim Hughes, sat by a Caucasian man who wept throughout much of the film. Jim didn’t know who the man was until Darius Gray (my co-director/producer), a proud Black man who joined the Mormon Church in 1964, finished up the q/a section by saying, “I need to acknowledge someone. Dr. Dodge, are you in the audience?” Donald Dodge (seated by Jim) stood up, weeping again. Darius could barely speak. “This is one of the missionaries who taught me,” he said.

Brother Dodge had given us pictures of himself as a missionary, which are in the doc, but I had never met him.

I don’t know everything that made him weep throughout the film. Memories? A sense of the importance of something which had seemed common those many years ago? Joy? Both of the missionaries who broke the news to Darius in 1964 that he wouldn’t be able to hold the priesthood gave us photos for the documentary. Both remain his close friends. Both remain firm in the faith.

My main thought, as one who inhabits the Provo MTC many times a week, was “Look at how mighty the effect of one person has been.” Which person? Maybe Donald Dodge, who chose to serve a mission, and (with his companion) asked their mission president if it would be all right to teach a Negro. Maybe Bill Price (the other missionary). Certainly Darius Gray, who (though still very ill) stands as a stalwart in the faith he joined forty-four years ago.

Darius got a letter from his non-LDS sister recently. She compared him to Martin Luther King Jr. A pretty good compliment, coming from a sibling.

Look at how mighty the effect of one person has been.

For me, there were other images in the doc that make me cry. The family of Elder Marion D. Hanks sent us photos of him. He has had a profound effect on me and on my family. (In fact, one of Bruce’s Christmas gifts to our children this year was a DVD of a devotional Elder Hanks presented years ago. Our children know Elder Hanks only as he is now, in his aged condition. We wanted them to see the man we knew.)

President Kimball. (How wonderful to hear his voice!) President McKay—the Prophet of my youth. Paul Gill, weeping as he answers the question, “If there was one thing you could change, what would that be?” with the words, “If I could let people know what the gospel means to me—if I had that ability to tell them of the message of Christ—that simple yet powerful message, I would be a happy camper.”

Darius and I have been inundated by requests to know when the DVD will be available, and when the film will be screened again. Updated here:

DVD: I DON’T KNOW (We’re working on special features.)

Next Utah screening: Saturday March 8th, 11:00 a.m. in the Egyptian Theater in Ogden, as part of the wonderful Foursite Film Festival

OTHER SCREENINGS:

Texas Black Film Festival (Dallas), Friday 2/1 at 2:00.

San Diego Black Film Festival, Saturday afternoon (2/2) late (I’m guessing 5:00 p.m.; it’ll be posted on the website by Friday).

I’ve sent notices to institutes in the areas we’re screening, but I’m not sure how far they’ll go. If you live around Dallas or San Diego, please spread the word. Here are links to three reviews:

http://gideonburton.typepad.com/gideon_burtons_blog/2008/01/lds-film-fest-3.html

http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695246634,00.html

http://www.sunswing.org/weblog/?p=8

Comments

  1. Margaret,
    I can’t wait! When will it be in the SF Bay area?

  2. 2. Ditto mmiles.

  3. Nothing scheduled in the Bay area as yet. Sorry. We’ll get there sometime. We’ve got some really good friends in the area. Summer maybe?

  4. Obviously, I’m letting people know about the movie. But feel free to comment on the substance of the blogpost too.

    I do get such a sweet sense of possibility every Wednesday night when we greet new missionaries. There they are in their brand new suits, creases still in the slacks or skirts. (We get sister missionaries too.) I already know that we will lose a few. (We already have.) Our branch president asks each, “Why are you serving a mission?” I listen carefully. I hope that someday I have a son or daughter who is in missionary orientation at the MTC answering that same question, and that the answer does not include the phrase, “I was always raised to serve a mission.” I would like the name of the Savior invoked.

    Seeing Darius and Donald Dodge weeping at the sense of where they had been in 1964 and where they were now touched me deeply. I know that the missionaries we greet on Wednesdays may someday find themselves looking down the years at the miracles they had hardly noticed.

  5. Thank you so much for this. I will be there in Ogden.

  6. Will this be coming to St. George? I would LOVE to
    see it! Reading this post made me weep with gratitude
    for those missionaries, and for the missionaries who
    taught me, 34 years ago, and for my 4 children, who
    all served missions. The profound effects ripple
    down the years.

  7. “How great shall be your joy” really rings true, Margaret. If I can’t make it to a screening in Ohio, I look forward to the release of the DVD – as much as perhaps any DVD ever. I mean that sincerely.

  8. Margaret, I love this. I am so proud of what you have done and so deeply grateful.

  9. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this, and I hope you’re able to bring it to Seattle.

    Aaron B

  10. Ray–we may be getting it to Ohio. I’ll let you know. I should have word on that soon.

    Steve (who posted this for me)–I love it when you young people mess up in computer links. The links you provided for the Texas Black Film Festival and the San Diego Black Film Festival don’t work, Bro.
    But thanks for posting this! Hope to see you in the NW if we get accepted in the festival there.

  11. tesseract says:

    i cried just reading this. i can’t wait to see it once its out on DVD (or before if you’re in the LA area).

  12. Ardis Parshall says:

    Margaret, for those of us who do better with PayPal than with finding a checkbook, envelope, and stamp, could you provide an address where donations can be made electronically? (I wrote to the man named on your website, who referred me to another website with hundreds of available charities, but I couldn’t find you or your project listed there.)

  13. Tesseract–isn’t San Diego SORT of the Los Angeles area? (It’s a suburb, isn’t it?) Anyway, we have quite a few people traveling from L.A. to San Diego for the SDBFF. I’d love to see you there. (Darius and I will be there with two descendants of Jane Manning James.) I can’t make any guarantees on a future LA screening. I’d love to have one, of course, because Pastor Murray, whose church is in L.A., is so important to the doc. I would LOVE to sit next to him during a screening. (I’d love to sit next to him anywhere, anytime. That man is one of the most radiant souls I’ve ever met.)

    Ardis, I’m touched that you’d ask about donations. Right now, we have enough to easily finish last tasks of the doc itself and get well into special features, but we do need more (probably $5,000.) to complete special features and do some good distribution. (If we were going to do something big in theaters, we’d need a heckuva lot more than that.) Anyway, go to our website at http://www.untoldstoryofblackmormons.com. At the top is a thingee which says “donate.” You can either download a hard copy or click on “online.” That takes you to a charitable organization which works with our sponsor, IFP. Our project is already listed. I BELIEVE it accepts paypal. I think I’m older than you, right? I am VERY new to paypal. I have now used it twice. And I keep forgetting my password.

    Steve–links are working fine now. Thanks.

  14. I can’t wait for this to be available on DVD. Thank you Margaret.

  15. I posted a short link at my blog, makes me wish I could get Friday afternoon off. I’m snowed under. Sigh.

    BTW, has anyone encountered a Richard Otieno, Kenyan Chemical Engineer, joined the Church in the mid-1970s (at least I assume he went on to finish his degree)?

    Wonderful man, completely transformed the Niagara Falls Ward. I’ve wondered how his life went and wished I had heard of him.

    Thanks.

  16. Margaret,

    I was at the fundraising event in Boston a few of months ago and was so impressed with the portions of the film you showed then.

    I’d love to screen the film for the class on Mormonism I’m teaching this spring at Harvard Divinity School so I hope you can be speedy about getting that DVD produced!

  17. The online donation site does not accept Paypal, but it does accept credit cards.

  18. Ardis Parshall says:

    13: No, Margaret, they don’t take PayPal after all. Neither did Heifer International when FMH was raising a Christmas donation.

    These are organizations I do not know, and I’m not comfortable scattering my credit card information around when I don’t even know where in the world the website operators are based. (I’m mentioning this because I doubt I’m alone in trusting PayPal — thru long experience — and being wary of trusting unknown parties, and when donation programs are set up, it might be wise to encourage them to include PayPal.)

  19. Margaret, you rock hard.

  20. My mission president was Bill Price (the other missionary who taught Darius). He would always get emotional talking about that experience, and it was a wonderful thing for us serving in DC to hear the story and the message.

  21. Josh Smith says:

    I just looked up the Ogden Foursite Film Festival but I didn’t see an event calendar. Anyone more familiar with the festival that can help?

  22. I just talked with the San Diego film festival. They confirmed that showtime will be Saturday, 2/2, @ 5:00pm.
    .
    Tickets are available on-line at:

    http://sdbff.com/nobody_knows.htm

    Don’t wait — they’ve already sold more than half the tickets. The on-line confirmation says that the tickets will come to your billing address but the staff insist that they will be held at Will Call. They also said that they may open a second screening if this sells out.
    .
    You may want to buy a pass; the other films look interesting as well.

  23. Naomi Sloan says:

    Will there be any Washington, DC screenings? (I know, I know–this question is getting old) I’d love to see it, and I’m sad I won’t be able to go down with my parents to see it in San Diego!
    –Naomi Frandsen (Sloan)

  24. Ditto #23. Send this film East! I am in a DC Suburb, and this would be so wonderful.

    I recently had the opportunity to thank one of my 3 Missionaries for serving, and for saving me in so many ways. My Missionaries are my personal heroes, and I was able to show my gratitude by serving my own Mission. I cried writing my letter to her, she cried reading it. I get why this man was weeping. Some of us never get to know the impact serving a Mission has on others, some do.

  25. I will bring at least a van-ful from the Central Valley for any screening in the Bay Area … please keep us posted!

  26. Timburriaquito says:

    I attended the San Diego screening of this documentary, and I fully enjoyed it. I thought it was presented in a “fair and balanced” way that didn’t try to condem the church for it’s past, nor did it say that everything is OK now, and we should just leave that all alone.

    I appreciated one of the comments early in the film where the young woman said something like “I don’t mind defending the church to black people, but I do mind defending my blackness to members of the church.”

    It was also very moving to see the clip of President Hinckley from a recent general conference condeming anyone who would treat people differently based on their race. It seemed so true to me, that I’m still wondering how was it that there was a restriction prior to 1978.

    I really liked Paul Gill. He seems like someone who I’d like to hang around. His answer to the question of “what is the one thing you’d like to have” was really moving, and reminded me of Alma’s proclamation, “Oh that I were an angel,…”

    If you get the chance to see this, take it!

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