The idea for Crossing the River was born when filmmaker Emilie McDonald received an article from Monroe Gilmour, Coordinator of the organization Western North Carolina Citizens for An End to Institutional Bigotry (WNCCEIB). The article told the story of teenagers who burned a cross on a family’s lawn. While reading later articles, Emilie was especially touched by the hopefulness of the family’s 13-year-old daughter and moved by the fact that the teenage perpetrators apologized to the family in court. I exchanged emails with Monroe of WNCCEIB in order to learn more about this story and other modern-day hate crimes.
KJ: Crossing the River tells the story of a cross burning that targets a biracial family in South Carolina. This is based upon a real incident that you shared with the film’s writer/director. How did you come to learn about this family’s experience?
MG: We learned about it on television the night it happened. The teenage daughter was very astute and took a picture with her cell phone and loaded it up to local media websites. We gathered some of their neighbors and had breakfast with them the next morning. The key initial response for any target/victim of hate activity is to ensure they do not feel alone. Our experience is that most people are resilient and knowing they are not alone makes drawing on that inner strength that much easier.
Tell me about the founding of your organization, Western North Carolina Citizens for An End to Institutional Bigotry.
WNCCEIB began in 1991 as part of an effort to shine a public spotlight on the discriminatory practices of a fancy country club in Asheville. A black child who was the guest of a white child at a swimming party was removed from the pool. Our organizing, which included exposing evangelist Billy Graham’s membership in the club, led to the Biltmore Forest Country Club publicly changing its policy and putting a non-discrimination clause in their by-laws. That club had also prohibited Jews not only from membership, but also from being guests.
Can you give me some examples of current hate crimes reported to WNCCEIB? Who is being targeted?
In the past couple of years, we’ve dealt with a cross burning, intimidation of two black families, two beatings of gay men, and the beating of a black man at a Waffle House nearby. The sad part is that what happens here reflects what’s happening across the country – north and south, east and west.
Tell me about cross burnings today. Who are the perpetrators?
Cross burning is considered such a vile act that many states, including NC, have laws specifically outlawing it. The perpetrators are generally [teenage] bullies who want to do something they know will be intimidating and terrifying to the targets. It’s an act of terrorism, no doubt.
KatyAnna Johnson is the Curriculum and Communications Specialist for Crossing the River