September 25th, an entire community experienced a rites of passage ceremony when they watched “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights.” Mark Oliver’s and James Langford’s ‘history lesson’ became a coming of age party for all who attended.

Rites of passage traditionally involve ceremonies marking a person’s progress from one status to another. We’re all familiar with baptisms to celebrate birth, vows to honor marriage, funerals to respect the passing of life.

September 25th, an entire community experienced a rites of passage ceremony when they watched “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights.” Mark Oliver’s and James Langford’s ‘history lesson’ became a coming of age party for all who attended.

Excitement began hours before the premiere at the barbeque sponsored by the Weed Revitalization Coalition.

According to John Oliver, Coalition Board Director, the monies raised would be used to market the documentary, making it available to school curriculums throughout the country. “It’s already been shown at College of the Siskiyous,” Oliver noted, “and several Siskiyou county schools are eager to show it too.”  

Oliver emphasizes he is not related to Mark Oliver, the documentary’s filmmaker. “We have the same last name and the same vision about how important this information is to share, but we’re not related,” he laughed.

Many had been interviewed for the documentary. Rick Moss, Curator of the African-American Museum and Library in Oakland drove with his wife Greta from Alameda for the viewing. “The story we’ll see today is a perfect microcosm of what happened throughout the country,” Moss said. “It was an honor to be a part of this film.”

“James asked me if I’d contribute,” Clardies Hilliard, who worked at Weed Elementary School for 18 years, said.

“Being a part of it reminded me of old Weed, what we all went through, all the stages. They told the truth. I’m proud I was a part of it.”

Although many came to witness their part in the documentary, hundreds more came because they wanted to learn more about Weed’s history. “James has been talking about this film since summer,” Bob Keyser of Hammond Ranch said. “I think this will be a great history lesson.” “I want to know the whole story,” Priscilla Dawson, 48 year resident of Mt. Shasta, said. “I brought my son from Truckee. We’re excited; I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises.”

“It’s a joy being here, getting to see our heritage,” Sabrina Fair Morgan said, who came with her two friends, Laverne McGehee and Corita Henderson. “We were born and raised here in Weed. We want to see what they put together,” McGehee added.

The premier was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., and by 1:45 p.m., Kenneth Ford Theater, which can accommodate nearly 600, was packed to overflowing.  COS President Randy Lawrence introduced Langford and Oliver before the documentary began. “Not only are these two men creators of this project, they are visionaries taking a piece of Weed history and bringing it to our awareness. This is a very special occasion for all of us.”

 Langford and Oliver spoke briefly prior to the documentary. “This journey began for me in 1974 when I moved to Weed,” Langford said. “I was the first African American teacher at Weed Elementary school where I taught 33 years. I discovered that the Blacks of Weed had an incredible story to tell. In 1984, I returned to school and earned my Master’s Thesis, telling that story. A lot of people quoted my ideas, but the thesis stayed on the shelves. Since then, Mark and I put this documentary together because our story needs to be told,” he concluded.

“There are a lot of amazing stories to tell about our little town,” Oliver noted. “We interviewed at least 50 people and did extensive historical research. We’ve taken 90 years of history and condensed it into an hour and fifty minute video. ”

“Our intent is to give voice to a community that hadn’t had a voice, in our area, our state, our country. So much that happened here happened throughout the country. Please stay after the video and ask questions,” Oliver said.

For the next one hundred and ten minutes, the crowd laughed and wept together as scenes from the film revealed details of the African-American experience “in the workplace, the schools, the businesses, the entertainment halls, sports fields, and churches.” Heroes were applauded, prejudice was brought out into the open, secret joys and hardships were revealed. At the film’s conclusion, the crowd as one applauded for a full ten minutes.

“It was fantastic,” Kenny Blockman said. “It was well put together all the way through. It opened up another dimension.”

“It was really good,” Helen Dimes observed. “It explained things I’ve been trying to tell my daughter about. All the memories were strong and true.” “I understand my mother better, and Weed, too,” Helena Dimes said.

“It was a very satisfying, emotional experience for me,” Deborra Brannon said. “I’ve lived in Weed since the ‘80s. It’s about time we all got to see this. Thank you Mark and James.”

“It was terrific,” Ahmed Ismail, COS Political Science instructor, said. “It was a microcosm of what was happening in our country.”

“An awesome job; I learned a lot,” Cal Vanderhoof, former Weed mayor, said.

During the question and answer period, over 200 people praised Langford and Oliver. “You should send it to PBS,” one woman urged. The audience applauded loudly.

“You did an excellent job of touching my heart and making it all clear,” a man said. “Thank you for what you’ve done for our community.”

A  DVD of “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights” will be available soon. Those interested in learning more about it may contact Mark Oliver at mark@markoliver.or or James Langford at jalang@cwnet.com.