Evanston's Living History Film Discussion with Craig Dudnick



Sunderland Public Library (, Sunderland, MA 01375, Sunderland MA)

* **For Immediate Release** *

Sunderland Public Library hosts discussion with filmmaker Craig Dudnick, producer of “Evanston’s Living History.”

On Friday, February 24, at 4 PM, the Sunderland Public Library will host a virtual program with filmmaker Craig Dudnick, who will discuss his 2008 film, *Evanston’s Living History.* Mr. Dudnick has lived in Evanston, Illinois for most of his adult life and saw the importance of interviewing the city’s elders and community leaders who had challenged and fought back against racial discrimination and segregation for much of their lives.

The film begins by recounting the brutal lynching of Anthony Crawford, a prominent Black farmer and businessman, on October 21, 1916.  Crawford was born into slavery in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1860 but was emancipated five years later at the end of the Civil War.  He came to own 427 acres of land and became a prosperous cotton farmer. He was looked upon as the family’s patriarch and as a respected community leader.  When the news came that the price of cotton was about to drop on October 22, 1916, Mr. Crawford had the temerity not to step aside so the white farmers could get the higher price.  He grew high-quality cotton and insisted he should get top dollar for it.  For that “offense,” he was beaten and jailed.  After he was released on bail, an angry lynch mob beat him and stabbed him, after which they dragged his body behind a buggy through the streets, including the Black part of town, so as to create a public spectacle.  It was a message intended to terrorize the Black community of Abbeville.  The town seized all 427 acres of Crawford’s land.

Shortly thereafter, an advertisement was taken out in the local paper warning the Crawford family “to quit the state of South Carolina by November 15th.”  Many Black families left South Carolina and fled to Evanston, Illinois, a city 12 miles outside of Chicago, where they had family connections.  Although they found relative safety in Evanston, life there was far from idyllic.  They faced rampant discrimination, rigid segregation, limited job opportunities, and harassment by the white community.

Yet, Craig Dudnick’s film is ultimately a story of triumph.  The bulk of the film consists of oral testimonies of the city’s elders who persevered and challenged the racism they faced.  They insisted on being treated with dignity and respect.  As one elder put it, “We knew [the white community] didn’t like us, but we treated them like we wanted to be treated.”  Another added, “It’s a wonder that we didn’t have a rebellion or insurrection.”  Through sheer hard work, sacrifice, and endurance, and by proving they were as talented and as able as any white citizen, they became accepted and eventually assumed major leadership positions in the city, including Alderman, Police Chief, Fire Chief, Superintendent, and Mayor.

Filmmaker Craig Dudnick underscored why he feels this film is relevant today: “Crawford’s murder is left out of history books. I learned about it only when I started talking with members of Evanston’s African American community. I began to understand that their stories, past and present, can help us change our thinking about the kind of society and future we want.”  Indeed, the film documents a history that shows that dramatic change is possible.

The documentary film has virtually no commentary.  Its power is in first-person stories.  Said Dudnick, “The individual stories combine to tell a national story about a group of people who transformed a community through dignity and humanity. They don’t fight fire with fire. I think that’s a value and an approach that needs more attention.”

Aaron Falbel, Head of Adult Services at the Sunderland Public Library and who invited Dudnick to participate in this event, observed that “One of the most remarkable things about this film is that there is no bitterness among the tellers of these stories, though they certainly had every reason to be bitter, given the way they were treated.  Their attitude of non-retaliation is reminiscent of the heroic nonviolence of King and Gandhi.  These are truly exemplary people who responded to hate with truth, hard work, perseverance, and love.”

Participants in this program are encouraged to screen the 55-minute film, *Evanston’s Living History,* beforehand by viewing it on Kanopy, a streaming service made available free of charge to library patrons.  Mr. Dudnick’s 4 pm presentation and discussion will last about an hour. The program will be held virtually over Zoom.  Participants can register for this event by via  www.calendly.com/sunderlandpubliclibrary/evanston or by visiting the library’s website, www.sunderlandpubliclibrary.org.

Library Director Katherine Umstot underscores the importance and timeliness of this event: “This program will be the first in a series of films and discussions focusing on social justice topics.  The Library is also pleased to offer this event as an important contribution to Black History Month.  It is an inspiring story of how a group of dedicated, committed citizens can make their own living history and control their own destiny.  That is a hopeful message in the face of news stories that remind us we still have much work to do to achieve real and lasting social justice in this country.”

This event is funded by a grant from the Sunderland Cultural Council, a local agency, which is supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

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For more information, please contact:

Katherine Umstot

Library Director

Sunderland Public Library