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TILLERY DOCUMENTARY FEATURED AT HCC

Gary Grant, executive director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery, left, and Dr. Charles Thompson, education and curriculum director at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies talk about the film, “We Shall Not Be Moved: A History of the Tillery Resettlement Farm” prior to its viewing Feb. 12 at HCC.

The documentary, “We Shall Not Be Moved: A History of the Tillery Resettlement Farm” was shown at Halifax Community College as part of Black History Month activities, Feb. 12. Gary Grant, executive director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery (CCT) and Dr. Charles Thompson, education and curriculum director at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies discussed the film prior to its viewing. The CCT were the film's producers.

“One of the things that we discovered is that if we can connect people to history, then we have a much better opportunity to understand it and also reach out and touch it and that's what we've been able to do with Tillery,” said Grant. “We have lost so much of American history.”

“We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to learn and preserve that history. I think the most important thing that I learned from the observances of Tillery when I first arrived was that I needed to stop and I needed to listen,” said Thompson, who directed the film along with Chris Potter. “I'm so glad to be collaborating here and … bringing history home.” The film was one of 200 selected to be shown at the 2007 Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” delves into the plight of African-American farmers who struggled to overcome the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow laws to establish the American dream. However, the residents had to battle racism, assaults on the environment and natural disasters. Their story is told from the time of slavery to the present day and uses archival footage, photographs and narratives from elders.

The Tillery Resettlement Farm was one of approximately 113 rural sharecropper resettlements created by the federal government in the 1930s and 1940s under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. It was one of the largest resettlement projects in the state and one of only 15 African-American projects in the country. As Grant explained, there were actually two resettlement farms in Halifax County—one at Tillery and the other named Roanoke Farms, located near the Aurelian Springs/Hwy 125 area.

The farm eventually became segregated with white settlers living in west Halifax and the African-American settlers living in Tillery, in the Roanoke River floodplain. At its peak, the project provided homes for about 150 African-American families and about 110 white families.

All of the homes were to include a barn, a chicken coop, a smoke house and a privy. Settlers on the project were initially loaned land, a home, tools and livestock for three years. During that time, they were expected to learn the basics of farming, home management and community cooperation. They followed strict home and farm guidelines, kept records of expenses and paid monthly installments toward purchasing their farm. If, after three to five years, they had demonstrated adequate interest and potential, settlers gained title to the land, paying the remainder of the loan over a 40-year period.

Settlers came from Nash, Edgecombe, Warren and Northampton counties as well as from greater distances—Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas. In 1943, the government liquidated the project.