Local filmmaker Mark Oliver and retired Weed Elementary School teacher James Langford are hard at work on a project that will survey the history of the black community in Weed through interviews, historical narrative and vintage photos.

Local filmmaker Mark Oliver and retired Weed Elementary School teacher James Langford are hard at work on a project that will survey the history of the black community in Weed through interviews, historical narrative and vintage photos.

Work on the documentary “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights” began in June 2009 and the film is set to premiere at College of the Siskiyous near the end of the summer. It tells the story behind the black population coming to build up the logging industry and examines their culture, which is unique to Weed among the surrounding areas.

In his 2008 documentary, “Voices Between the Mountains,” Oliver explored what it is like to be a youth in Siskiyou County. He said he later realized the black kids were left out, sparking the idea for his current project.

Oliver partnered with Langford, who wrote his thesis in 1984 on the black culture in Weed, and together they pursued funding for the film. Sponsored by the Weed Revitalization Coalition, the film was chosen as one of about 15 projects out of 180 to receive a grant of $10,000 from the California Council for the Humanities Story Fund Grant, which looks for untold culture stories of California.

Oliver recognizes the black community concentrated in Weed’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood as one of those untold stories. The black population in Weed has surprised many people, even people from surrounding areas, because it is unexpected, Oliver points out. It’s an anomaly that there’s this kind of culture in Weed, because within 100 miles south or north, there are few African Americans, he says.

Langford hopes the film will shed new light on this subject, observing that even now, “if you’re talking to somebody from Mt. Shasta, they have no idea.” Langford points out the importance of this film, explaining that, “events happening in our country in the 1960s (were) mirrored by Weed.”

Oliver hopes the film will conserve a historical period that has not previously been formally documented. His goal is to reveal a distinctive history about this lumber town whose ethnic makeup is largely unknown. The film shines a historical spotlight on Weed as being much more culturally diverse than people have ever thought. “To Weed’s credit, it will show how this town survived as a unique multicultural town where there are really no color barriers,” Oliver says.

Langford desires for this film to bring new light to the issue of racism in our local history, which he acknowledges is often the elephant in the room. As a past educator, he recognizes the importance of addressing issues as they apply to our community, stating that if we are not careful, issues like racism will “never be off the blackboard.”

By revealing this small picture of history in Weed as one of many in our country that are part of a larger portrait, Langford hopes we can make progress on big issues such as racism when “one day we get all the pictures together.”

Langford clarifies that they are not trying to stir up trouble, but are doing a service by providing this historical information. “I think what we’re doing is the real deal, it’s how it happened,” Langford says.

He is also excited to represent the different perspectives found throughout the county. By bringing this history into the open, there is always the possibility that someone will have a new slant on it, adding depth to the story. “We’ve talked to people from all four towns around and everyone has a different idea of what’s going on,” Langford says.

Both Langford and Oliver have learned a great deal in the production of the film through interviews with more than 50 community members, professionals and scholars. Langford reflects on the great amount he has learned through this project, “from town to town, from person to person, (everyone) has a different interpretation. The whole film will be interesting.”

Oliver recounts what he has learned about the black presence in Northern California – that there were towns in nearby areas with similar situations where blacks came to work in the mills and mines. During the Gold Rush, they worked in the hills. Some came to Weed as slaves and worked on local ranches to buy their freedom.

Langford and Oliver learned how the company towns were organized and segregated according to race, how different ethnicities mingled or didn’t mingle and how jobs were delegated.

Despite hardships that accompanied being part of the black community in a company town, Oliver notes, “everyone we’ve interviewed has been very forthcoming and receptive,” and for the most part, the black community in Weed feels it is time their story is acknowledged.

As the film nears completion, Langford and Oliver are still searching for photographs of the black community of Weed and the surrounding area. They are looking for pictures of “The Club” and the “White Front” which were black clubs in Weed, as well as pictures of everyday activities. The grant money is also near its end. Langford admits that making a film is “more expensive than I thought.” To contribute donations, pictures or stories, contact Mark Oliver at 859-3316 or James Langford at 938-4790.