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A Movie Without Color
Sherri kicked up little tufts of dust as she trudged along the stony dirt path beside her parents. The haze of a dull afternoon sun hung low in the sky, and the warmth of the tired Louisiana summer gently tickled her cheeks. A smooth July breeze rolled through, ruffling her skirt and carrying with it the scents of the summer: freshly ripened peaches, sweet honeysuckle bushes, and hot fried chicken from the diner up the road.
She looked up as she continued walking, her parents several steps ahead and chatting as they approached the steps that led to the church. In front of her stood the handsome white church she visited every Sunday, its tower nearly touching the clouds and its tall stained glass windows casting colorful shadows below. Before its tall wooden doors, people were congregating and talking eagerly, their faces red from the warm trek. Sherri recognized nearly all of the people that were gathered outside the church; they all lived in the small town and most of the children attended her school.
She spotted her friends John and Timmy standing with their parents, and she and her parents approached the group.
“Marcia, Scott,” Timmy’s mother exclaimed to her parents as they approached, “Nice to see you!” Sherri’s parents exchanged similar greetings and she and the boys decided to sneak away for a few minutes.
“It sure is hot out tonight,” Sherri said squinting towards the horizon as the three kids made their way for the shady willow a few yards away.
“Good for catching frogs though!” John said smiling.
“Sherri, you shoulda seen the one we caught earlier,” Timmy began, nodding in agreement. “I wish we didn’t have to go to this meeting tonight, else we’d still be down at the creek.”
“Say, what is this meeting about anyway?” John asked as they reached the shady refuge of the willow’s towering branches.
“My mom said some fancy director is coming to Morse to shoot a movie. I bet they’re having this meeting to ask if we wanna be in it!” Timmy replied, smiling at the idea.
“Hey, I wanna be in the movie!” John chimed, the excitement evident across his face as well.
“Look, they’re going in now,” Sherri said as she looked back at the church. The crowd of people was filing in through the tall wooden doors. “Let’s go find out!”
The three of them galloped to the group and shuffled into the large church. Sherri, John, and Timmy took a seat in the pew next to their parents. The air inside the church was still. The breezeless heat was uncomfortable and made Sherri’s legs stick to the wooden pews beneath her.
On the altar stood the Reverend and Mayor Carson, chatting with concerned looks on their faces beside the pulpit. A low murmur filled the high ceiling as the congregation settled and awaited the start of the meeting.
Mayor Carson approached the pulpit and the church grew silent. “Good evening, citizens of Morse,” he began. “We have called this town meeting to address an issue that is very pressing at this moment. Immediate action must be taken.”
Sherri looked over at Timmy and John. Both of the boys were smiling, as if waiting for the Mayor to say, “We need two twelve year old boys to star in a movie!”
“As you all know,” the Mayor continued, his eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed with plump droplets of sweat, “major director Rudy Collins has selected our home of Morse, Louisiana, as the backdrop for his upcoming film.”
The boys’ smiles widened, and the congregation, too, began smiling and excitedly whispering at the news, though most of them had known about the movie for a few weeks.
“While this is an exciting time for our town,” the Mayor stated, his face opposite the expressions of the congregation, “there are details that were withheld from us regarding the production of this film.”
Whispers, again, flooded the church, as people began wondering aloud what grave details they may have been.
The Mayor took a deep breath before continuing. “Mr. Collins is taking a controversial step in the film industry with this movie. While the film promises to be of excellent quality, the leading actor that Mr. Collins selected is a colored man.” The Mayor’s voice changed as he spoke the last two words, though just a nuance. It was as if he was poorly trying to disguise the disgust in his voice.
Shocked sighs filled the still air. People began murmuring again, this time their faces marked by disgust and outrage. Sherri looked at the boys sitting next to her. Like her, they were gazing around the room, wide-eyed, unsure of how to take the news.
“Now, now,” the Mayor began again, silencing the pews before him. “We as citizens of Morse can not allow such a travesty to take part in our respectable little town. We are not a town of uncivilized savages, and we cannot let Mr. Collins portray us as such!”
The crowd broke out into riotous calls of agreement. People were standing and shouting about the “embarrassment” and “improperness” of the circumstances at hand, and how they just simply could not endure having such a “ridiculous show of barbarism” take place in their hometown.
It was settled then. Seeing as the whole town was so passionately opposed to the filming of this movie in Morse, they would protest Mr. Collins and his insane idea.
“He and the Negro man are due in town Saturday afternoon. At noon sharp, we will gather in the center of town and prepare to let Mr. Collins know how we feel. The protest will commence promptly upon his arrival,” the Mayor announced, and the meeting was adjourned.
Saturday morning, Sherri was awoken earlier than usual. Her mother was rushing around the house, preparing banners and signs for the looming protest.
“Sherri,” her mother said as she gently pulled the covers back from Sherri’s sleeping body, “we could really use your art skills on these posters!” Sherri rolled over, uninterested in assisting with the signs. “Sweetie, you really need to get up and get ready for this afternoon. It’s important that the whole town goes to support the cause.”
Sherri did not argue this time with her mother’s order and obeyed. She arose, dressed herself, and met her parents in the kitchen. They were writing with a thick black marker on a long white banner, spelling out the words, “MORSE CITIZENS AGAINST THIS DISRESPECT.”
“Disrespect?” Sherri read aloud. Growing up in her small southern town, Sherri had heard plenty of slurs against colored people. However, unbeknownst to her parents, she did not truly understand the argument against people of color. Sherri always obeyed, though, and, instinctively, she always blindly agreed with her parents’ opinions.
“Darling, it is downright disrespectful of Rudy Collins to bring into our town a Negro man for his movie, and make such a mockery of Morse,” her father said, his eyes narrowed with concern. Still, Sherri did not understand.
“Sherri, we need you to run down to the General Store and pick up another black pen,” her mom said, reapplying black ink to the already outstanding letters on the poster. “We want to make a few more signs, and this one is just dulling by the second!”
Again, Sherri obeyed, and made her way towards the General Store. As she descended the wooden porch steps and walked down the long path towards the road, her mind wandered. She wondered what the protest would be like and how Mr. Collins would react; she even wondered how it would make the colored actor feel. Isn’t it sort of rude, Sherri thought, to protest a person like this?
She reached the store and pulled open the tall door, a little bell jingling as it closed behind her.
“Hey there, Sherri!” the man behind the counter called, and Sherri waved sweetly in response. She headed for the small shelf towards the back that she knew always had odds and ends, like spare sewing needles, or in this case, thick black markers.
As she made her way past, she saw a man pacing the aisle displaying newspapers. He looked troubled as he gazed at the headlines, all, of course, regarding the protest that was planned for later that morning. However, this man was of color, which was a rarity in this town. He seemed to be looking for something, and though Sherri did not know quite what that thing might be, she decided it best to offer her assistance.
“Excuse me, sir,” Sherri said, approaching the man. He looked up, pausing as he exited his deep thought, and looked at Sherri with a hint of surprise.
“Sorry, young lady,” he replied sheepishly, “I know how the people of Morse feel about Negroes. I’ll be out of your way in a moment.”
Sherri was taken aback by his comment. “No, sir,” she said sincerely, apologetic for appearing apparently condescending. “I’ve never seen you around here before, and it seemed like you were looking for something. I was just wondering if maybe I could point you in the right direction. That’s all, sir.”
The man of color sat a minute, taking in what Sherri had just said, as though pondering a deep philosophical thought. Then, his lips broke into a smile. He shook his head.
“I was just reading all these headlines,” he began, gesturing towards the rack of newspapers before him. “No one here has been exactly welcoming. They don’t seem to be happy that I am here in their town to be in a film.”
Sherri smiled and sighed with awe. “You’re the actor!” For a moment, she was star struck. It did not matter the color of his skin.
He laughed. “Yes I am, young lady,” the man said smiling. “And you, are the first one in this entire town to make me smile today. You are the only person here to call me “sir.” You have no idea how much that means right now, especially with all this talk of a protest and nonsense.” The man smiled down at Sherri. She smiled back, still in awe that she was speaking to a soon-to-be-famous movie star.
“Thank you,” he said to her, and held out a hand. Sherri extended her own hand and shook his, still smiling.
“No, sir, thank you,” She replied. They parted, and Sherri headed back home. She was not going to buy her parents a thick black marker from the General Store, nor was she going to participate in any sort of protest. All this “colored man,” racial protest nonsense? Even if no one else in Morse, Louisiana, did, it didn’t matter to her. Sherri finally understood.