Local filmmaker George Tillman 's Creative Arts film company will screen its second completed documentary tonight (Feb. 26th) at Studio On The Square at 2105 Court St.
"True Blue – Memphis Lawmen of 1948" explores the impact of the historic 1948 hiring of the city's first African-American policemen, including their influence on the African-American directors that would later run the department.
Along with Tillman's earlier Cinematic Arts release, "True Blue – Memphis Lawmen of 1948" is being prepared for presentation at Langston University in Oklahoma and Chicago State University in March. Arrangements also are being finalized for presentations in Waukegan, Ill. and New York before submission on the independent film festival circuit.
The "Class of '48" depicted by "True Blue" included a dozen men. The move to put them to work actually was not the first effort to overcome the dual society that had long marked the department. The department had turned to African Americans when it was decimated by the Yellow Fever. Still, many historians credit the 1948 group as pioneers relative to race, employment and public and peer perception.
"True Blue" was completed from the original template by brothers Billy and Andrew "Rome" Withers. Their father, Ernest Withers Sr., began what would become a vigorous public life as one of the "blacks in blue" before going on to become an internationally accredited civil rights photographer
"He (Ernest Withers) is also a mentor of mine. An esteemed mentor," said Tillman.
A coup for the film, he says, is the inclusion of the two surviving members of the small original force – Roscoe McWilliams, who left the force after two years, and Capt. Jerry Williams, who remained until retirement. Both now are in their late 80s and meeting them was "an intimidating honor," Tillman said.
"You cannot be faced with living history such as they represent without being moved. It's but one part of this story. It is amazing to hear and revisit what they had to go through, out fighting for law and order every day and night and then having to confront illegal and discriminatory activity on the jobs that they based their families' livelihoods on. It's fascinating."
Among the other notable elements of the film's story, said Tillman, are, "The reactions of the (Memphis Police Department's) black officers after it was learned that the black officer guarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been pulled from his assignments on the night Dr. King was assassinated and the reaction in the department."
In making "True Blue – Memphis Lawmen of 1948," much attention was given to exploring how the 1948 breakthrough influenced later developments such as the hiring of the first African-American police director, James Ivy. An interview with current director Toney Armstrong speaks to that influence.
"It's very moving how he (Armstrong) recounts the reality of what that legacy means to him personally and how it influenced the growth of the department and this city," said Tillman.
"I hope we've done a job that is worthy of the history we are trying to preserve."
Tillman's earlier release is titled, "Two Million Women Marched: The March, The Impact, The Progress."