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“Foot Wash” & Fair Hope Christian Benevolent Society

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The Contradictions of Fair Hope is a new documentary film directed by S. Epatha Merkerson and Rockell Metcalf

 

 

 

In July of 1865. Over 4 million slaves have been freed. Forced to roam the antebellum countryside, many of them are ill prepared and unable to cope with the realities of their new-found freedom. This documentary examines a little known aspect of American history, when newly freed slaves throughout the South formed “benevolent societies” to respond to abject hunger, illness and the fear of a pauper’s grave.

The documentary sets the stage in rural Alabama, prior to Emancipation, and traces the development, struggles, contributions and gradual loss of tradition of one of the last remaining African American benevolent societies, known as “The Fair Hope Benevolent Society” in Uniontown, Alabama.

Through gripping human stories of some of the last surviving society members and interviews with historians and local residents, the film provides an unprecedented look at the complex and morally ambiguous world of Fair Hope juxtaposed against the worldly pleasures of what has become known as the annual “Foot Wash” celebration.

 

"Foot Wash celebration" is a euphemism for an off-the-chain festival in the woods, attended by up to 100,000 people.  One can buy BBQ, tee-shirts, fried snickers candy bars and all the things you would expected to be able to buy during events like this.  What makes Foot Wash so wild are the rampant illegal activities that it is known for; including drug sales and prostitution.

 

The film makers said they were interested in explaining how benevolent societies, in general, helped Black communities after the end of Slavery, by providing aid to the sick or providing money for burial to it's members.  Later as insurance companies began to cover Black people benevolent societies started to die out.  The Fair Hope Christian Benevolent Society is one of the few that remain and is almost 130 years old.

 

The "contradiction" comes in as the filmmakers try to reconcile how "Foot Wash" came from the Fair Hope Christian Benevolent Society.

 

Here is the trailer from the film

 

Learn more about the documentary film The Contradictions of Fair Hope

 

Here is another short video from the perspective of some other attendees

 

 

On Youtube you can find many more graphic displays of the activities at Foot Wash.

 

This so called "contradiction" in the film is the American story. 

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