‘Legacy Unearthed’ a ‘God Thing’ for Producers
A LEGACY UNEARTHED
What: “A Legacy Unearthed, a Documentary About Black History in Abilene”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23
Where: Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St.
Admission: Donations requested
Details: The film is presented in association with the ACU Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action and the Curtis House Cultural Center
By LORETTA FULTON
As a pastor, Andrew Penns knows the power of prayer.
He has seen many prayers answered for himself and his flock as the longtime minister of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church. So, it was with a grateful heart–not shock–that he witnessed a fervent prayer answered in the form of Alisha Taylor, who was the primary force behind an upcoming documentary titled “A Legacy Unearthed, a Documentary About Black History in Abilene.”
Much of the filming for the 75-minute documentary was done at Curtis House Cultural Center, which Penns directs. The center houses artifacts, photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, and other memorabilia that depict the history of the contributions of Black Abilenians to the city’s development.
“It was very exciting to me to see Ms. Alisha take charge,” Penns said, “and work with her team to get the production done.”
In fact, Taylor and her crew may have set a speed record for the making of a documentary, with fundraising and production both starting in March of this year and the finished product ready for viewing.
“It was a very fast turnaround,” Taylor said. “I think God really orchestrated all of it.”
The film will debut at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23, in the Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St. Admission is by donation.
“God talk” comes naturally to both Taylor and Penns. He took over leadership of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church after his father, Alex W. Penns Sr., stepped down. Taylor is the daughter of Dr. Jerry Taylor, associate professor in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry and director of the university’s Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action, one of the sponsors of the documentary. Her younger brother, Jeremiah, graduated from ACU in May and was at intern last year at Curtis House. Each room of the center has a theme, and interviews pertinent to the theme were filmed for the documentary in each one.
“It’s driven by personal testimony and history,” Alisha Taylor said.
Left photo shows Andrew Penns, Jeremiah Taylor, and Robin Martin, at Curtis House Cultural Center. Brother and sister Jeremiah and Alisha Taylor are shown at right. Photos courtesy Alisha Taylor
One room is named for the late Robert Brewster, who was the last principal of Woodson High School before it closed in 1970 in a farewell to segregation. Penns graduated from Woodson High School in 1967 and returned to Abilene after serving with the Army in Vietnam and working for a while in Austin.
Today, Robin Martin, Brewster’s daughter, proudly takes people on tours of the room. It houses clippings, plaques, and photos of Brewster and of Martin’s stepmother, Effie Brewster, who was a certified tax assessor.
Seeing the documentary completed was a dream come true for Penns. He expects that it will bring a greater exposure to the center, with many people getting a first glimpse of it through the documentary. He also hopes the documentary will elevate the center to the status of other downtown museums. And, he is hopeful that more people will learn about the history of early-day Black Abilenians.
“It was just a great joy knowing that what has been prayed for has come into reality and knowing the amount of time and efforts has not been in vain,” Penns said, “but has now put the Cultural Center and the City of Abilene on the map.
Another exciting part of the filming for Penns was getting a glimpse of what it’s like to be part of a professional movie production. Taylor graduated from ACU in 2017 with a degree in musical theater. She splits her time between Abilene, New York City, and other venues as a professional actress.
At the end of April, when the documentary production was underway, Taylor had to be in New York to perform in “The Mountaintop,” which is a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night before he was assassinated in 1968. The play is set in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Taylor’s character, Camae, is a maid. Taylor has performed in that role many times, including at ACU.
Taylor not only produced, directed, and edited “A Legacy Unearthed,” she also came up with the title. She knew she wanted the words “legacy” and “unearthed” included because both words tell a story in themselves. For the production she was joined by two Abilene cameramen, Joseph Booth and Sammy Castillo, Jr. A total of about 10 people, including people interviewed, took part in the documentary.
One of the first steps in producing a documentary is getting funding secured. The producers chose Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website for artists and entrepreneurs.
“That was our sole fundraising platform,” Taylor said.
A goal of $5,000 was set. When the goal fell short by $1,500, a donor pitched it with that amount–another “God thing” to Taylor.
Once the documentary debuts at the Paramount, the team will set about getting it seen in other places. Taylor plans to submit it to film festivals and will try to get it on a venue like Amazon Prime. She also wants to make it available for Abilene children to see by showing it at Boys and Girls Clubs and the G.V. Daniels Recreation Center.
“Those are my hopes for the film,” Taylor said.
Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene