Monday, March 19, 2018

Jerry Gershenhorn's "Louis Austin and the Carolina Times"

Jerry Gershenhorn is Julius L. Chambers Professor of History at North Carolina Central University.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle:
It’s March 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, in Durham, North Carolina, where African Americans are segregated and oppressed by Jim Crow-era white supremacy. Blacks attend segregated, woefully under-financed primary and secondary public schools. There is also a black public college in Durham, North Carolina College for Negroes (NCC), which suffers because of weak financing from the state government, and unlike the nearby white institution, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), NCC has no graduate or professional programs. The movie opens with four black men driving a 1928 Model A Ford from Durham to nearby Chapel Hill. In the car are two local lawyers in their early 30s, Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy; a black journalist, 35-year-old Louis Austin, the editor and publisher of Durham’s Carolina Times; and 24-year-old Thomas Raymond Hocutt, who dreams of becoming a pharmacist. However, no black college in North Carolina offers a pharmacy program. So Hocutt, backed by Pearson, McCoy, and Austin, has decided to mount the first legal challenge to segregated education in the South. A courtroom scene follows the opening scene, in which UNC’s registrar rejects Hocutt’s application.

Although my book chronicles Louis Austin’s life in the black freedom struggle in North Carolina from the late 1920s to the early 1970, the movie focuses on the Depression and World War II eras, highlighting the early decades of the long black freedom struggle before the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. In addition to Hocutt’s lawsuit, scenes would include a white soda jerk’s 1931 attack on the state’s most prominent black businessman, C. C. Spaulding, because Spaulding transgressed the color line; an early voter registration movement led by Austin in the early 1930s, with tremendous opposition led by the white supremacist editor of the Raleigh News and Observer Josephus Daniels; and the 1944 murder of a black soldier, Booker T. Spicely, by a white bus driver, Herman Lee Council, following the soldier’s refusal to move to the back of the bus, and the subsequent trial of the bus driver.

Optimally, the film would be directed by the incomparable Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th), with an amazing cast: Thomas R. Hocutt (Michael B. Jordan), Louis Austin (David Oyelowo), Louis Austin’s wife, Stella Austin (Tessa Thompson), C. C. Spaulding (Dennis Haysbert), Josephus Daniels (John Goodman), Conrad Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Booker T. Spicely (Anthony Mackey), Herman Lee Council (Brad Garrett), and Louis Austin’s father, William Austin (Morgan Freeman).
Learn more about Louis Austin and the Carolina Times at The University of North Carolina Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times.

--Marshal Zeringue