Documentary about racism screens Dec. 1

  • Gloria Matlock’s documentary, “Just Another Mile.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/25/2018 1:26:29 PM

GREENFIELD – Growing up in the 1960s, Gloria Matlock remembers the nearly-all-black section of Ravenna, Ohio, where her family lived set apart from the rest of the rural community.

She knew that McElrathPark, set up on 200 acres of wetland on what had been a dairy farm into 800 20-by-100-foot lots for sale to former Afro-American slaves and their families, was set apart from the white community. But years later, when she began reflecting on photos and news clippings she was sent about the community she left when she was 18, did she decide to make a full-length film about it.

Now, Racial Justice Rising will present the premiere screening of “Just Another Mile: Making a Place for Us” on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 10:15 a.m. in First Congregational Church, 43 Silver St.

The Greenfield woman’s documentary is about racism, resilience and perseverance in the small Ohio community.

“It was a place out of mind, out of sight,” says Matlock of McElrath Park, which was created as the Proctor Allotment in 1920 by Cleveland real-estate agents, just as the Skeels Allotment was formed in the early 1950s three miles away. They were the cheap lots, some of which were given away as door prizes at a Cleveland movie theater as an advertising gimmick. “They said, ‘You’ll be comfortable living there, because it’s a wooded area, with thick woods; It’s your environment,’” which some took to be a reference to African jungles.

Scores of black families who moved to “the allotments” as they sought to get out of the cities and to put down roots, found themselves in part of the town without water, sewer, electricity, streetlights, paved roads, community center or garbage collection — and little acceptance from the rest of Ravenna, says Matlock, who moved there from Cleveland in 1961 with her family, including nine sisters and brothers.

“People paid for these cheap lots, not expecting what was in store for them,” explained Matlock, a musician, writer and former reading specialist, who moved to Greenfield more than a dozen years ago after living in Brookline and Amherst. “People moved there; there was so much adversity.”

Matlock spent two years researching and making her first feature-length film, which involved interviewing elders in McElrath Park and poring over documents at the Ravenna Historical Society.

Although her father was able to build a house on two lots, devising an indoor plumbing system that was rare for a neighborhood where shacks, outhouses and outdoor common wells were prevalent, she recalls, “There were all muddy roads and it was a flood zone. There was no garbage pickup and there was no place to put your garbage. There was no government. Some people would have little stores — there were two stores, both in people’s homes.”

Matlock’s film describes how some people living outside McElrath Park, including a Ravenna nurse who set up health clinics, and a group at nearby Kent State University that set up a community center, reached out to the community and helped it clean up and improve conditions over time.

Some of the people she interviewed in the film — most of whom she had known but never spoken with because it wasn’t customary to have conversations with elders — describe how despite substandard conditions, their so-called “Sugar Hill” community seemed like “paradise” compared to the Cleveland tenements they’d left behind.

“I hope people will hear these elders speaking about what perseverance means,” says Matlock, who plans to show the film in Ravenna in the spring. “We had to fight for our rights. There were signs saying, ‘Niggers go home.’ But there were some wonderful white people who helped. I think I’m alive today because of that. We had to leave in order to be successful.”

Although Matlock said she had long heard stories about the adverse history of Ravenna’s “allotments,” interviewing the community’s elders for the documentary taught her a lot.

“It made me appreciate the hard work they did for us,” she says. “After hearing the stories and seeing their photographs and learning about the hard work, it me feel that I have to go into oppressed areas and help people. It’s my responsibility. It made me have so much respect, more respect, a different type of respect, than what I had for them before. I thought just because they were elders, I had to look up to them, Now I see what they did. They wanted us to be educated, to live comfortably, to have more.”

Child care for the program, which is free, can be arranged by contacting:

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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