Local filmmaker George Tillman Jr. says the passing of cherished actress Ruby Dee and before her Maya Angelou marks why films such as the one he has just completed deserve support from the public.
Entitled “True Blue—Memphis Lawmen of 1948,” Tillman’s second completed documentary this year is scheduled to premiere on Saturday (June 21st) at the University of Memphis’ Michael Rose Theater. It explores the impact of the historic 1948 hiring of the city’s first African American policemen.
The premiere is being presented by Tillman’s company Cinematic Arts, the Ernest Withers Foundation and the African American Police Association, which will receive a portion of the $10 admission fee.
“With the recent passing of Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee, it is even more important that stories such as the ones presented in the film are preserved. We must honor our pioneers,” said Tillman.
“I hope the film does these men and their compatriots justice in revealing the doors they opened. Think about all the civil jobs we have nowadays. It was because they took that bold first step and their stories are worth sharing. Imagine what their families had to go through.”
Screened earlier this year to thumbs up acceptance, the final version to be presented Saturday will be submitted to film festivals and available for DVD resale.
“True Blue” was originally the idea of brothers Billy and Andrew “Rome” Withers, whose 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.
The film’s centerpiece is the recollections of octogenarians Roscoe McWilliams, who left the force after two years, and Capt. Jerry Williams, who remained until retirement. Both with “memories as vivid as the film they’re captured on,” says Tillman.
Current MPD Director Toney Armstrong gives a key interview, telling how the hiring of the first African-American police director, James Ivy, influenced him and gives a glimpse of how the rank and file dealt with cultural issues behind the scenes.
“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.”
Andrew “Rome” Withers, who has followed in his father’s footsteps as a photographer, says “This has been a long standing dream for my brother and I. Like the other men whose stories make up this film, he was just trying to make a living, but the film shows how their daily struggle was shared by the black community and influenced a great deal in this city.
“It’s more than a personal statement to consider this a must see film.”