“I left Mississippi a scared little girl of seven years old. Now I’m 107, and I’m not frightened anymore.”
The documentary “100 Years from Mississippi” tells the extraordinary story of the late Mamie Lang Kirkland, an African-American woman whose family fled Mississippi more than 100 years ago just ahead of a lynch mob targeting her father.
The movie consists of interviews with Mamie and meticulous historical research documenting a horrific period of widespread racial terrorism that plague many areas of the country in the years before and after World War I.
Mamie’s story has a personal connection by marriage to Harris Beach. She’s the grandmother of Darnella Bullard, wife of Harris Beach Partner H. Todd Bullard of our Economic Development and Public Finance and Business and Commercial Litigation groups. Harris Beach showed the movie to attorneys and professional staff in a gathering on Feb. 28.
Mamie’s family eventually set down roots in Buffalo, where she lived for more than 80 years. At the time of her death in 2019, at the age of 111, Mamie was the oldest resident of Buffalo.
The migration of Mamie’s family was not isolated. Millions of African-American families left their homes in the south during the period of the “great migration” to escape overt threats of violence and domestic terrorism. This period was documented in a 2011 book, “Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America.”
100 Years from Mississippi, which is available on various streaming services and is being aired on Public Television stations across the country, goes into detail on the fate of a friend of Mamie’s father, John Hartfield. Hartfield left Mississippi, and fled north along with the Kirkland family. Hartfield later returned to Mississippi and became a victim of a horrific lynching.
In part, the documentary also tells the story of a reconciliation and healing of sorts. Mamie’s son, Tarabu, who made the movie, encouraged his mother to return to Ellisville, Mississippi to confront the ugly past. She made the journey, and her story was chronicled on the front page of the New York Times on Sept. 19, 2015. Mamie’s story is now a permanent exhibit at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
During one of those honors by the Equal Justice Institute, Mamie spoke the words at the start of this article: “I left Mississippi a scared little girl of seven years old. Now I’m 107 and I’m not frightened anymore.”
Documentary with Impact
Harris Beach was honored to share the story of this remarkable woman with attorneys and staff in lunchtime viewing on Feb. 28 in honor of Black History Month.
Those who watched and listened found Mamie’s story to be powerful and said it provided important lessons about our painful racial history and a sense of hope.
Here are a few reactions and some photos:
“I was struck by her resiliency, humor and love of family. I was amazed to think of the arc of events that occurred during her lifetime, and the somewhat Forrest Gump-ian nature of her life, from the lynching in Mississippi, to the race riots in East St Louis and beyond. I was also struck by the exponential nature of subsequent generations, the increasing number of grandkids over kids, of great grandkids over grandkids.
“I also was both discouraged by the base elements of human nature that inflict terrible pain on our brothers and sisters in so many ways apparently forever, as well as the ‘’better angels of our nature’ that she beautifully exemplified.”
– Chris Jagel, Harris Beach Partner and Chief Executive Officer
“Thank you for showing 100 Years from Mississippi in honor of Black History Month. I think that as people, it is very important to appreciate the things that make us want to be better individuals and I truly feel as if viewing the film today made me, as well as my colleagues, want to do and be better. Although Mamie has passed on, I think I can speak for everyone in my office who was able to attend the showing just how big of an affect her story had on everyone in the room.”
– Autumn Schunk, Administrative Assistant, Immigration Law Practice Group
“It was incredible watching the film and seeing the graphic images of slavery and segregation throughout our history (and recent history) that Mamie endured. While I was shocked and horrified listening to her experiences and seeing the images (many of us in the room, including myself, had tears in our eyes at various points watching the film), I was amazed to see her resiliency as she recounted her stories.
“What others found shocking, she recounted like they were her normal – because they were. It truly shows how strong a person’s character and spirit can be even when faced with acts of terror, discrimination, and hate on an almost daily basis. She found a way to push through everything and not only survive, but make the lives of those close to her better, and impacted the lives of all those who got the opportunity to watch and listen to her story.”
– Brian Roy, Partner, Financial Restructuring, Bankruptcy and Creditor’s Rights
“I found the film very relatable as my family has strong ties to Mississippi and was part of the great migration. During law school, I was a part of the Case Justice Initiative, which looked into some of the lynchings and murders referenced in the film. Although some of the scenes were painful to watch/hear, it is necessary to remember the injustices of the past in order to prepare for a greater future.”
– Will Wolfe, Associate, Financial Restructuring, Bankruptcy and Creditor’s Rights Practice Group and Cannabis Industry Team