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September 12, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Booker’s Place Documentary

  |   Video
  • Yvette Johnson is a Phoenix resident whose grandfather, Booker Wright, appeared in a 1966 NBC documentary speaking boldly and honestly about his experience with racism in the southern United States. What he said while the cameras were rolling changed his life forever. His story is featured in the new documentary “Booker’s Place”. Learn more about the film from Johnson, a co-producer, and Raymond De Felitta, the director.
  • Yvette Johnson - Co-Producer, "Brooker's Place"
  • Raymond De Felitta - Director, "Brooker's Place"
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: documentary, brooker's place, brooker, place, NBC, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: For the next year ASU's project humanities is exploring the question are we losing our humanity. The program begins tomorrow with the Arizona premier of the documentary Booker's place, a Mississippi story. In a moment we'll hear from both the director of the film and co-producer, Yvette Johnson, a Phoenix woman whose grandfather, Booker Wright, is the subject of the documentary.

Yvette Johnson: I am visiting Greenwood for information about my grandfather. His name was Booker Wright and he owned a cafe that was also a club called Booker's place over on Mc Lauren Street.

Video speaker: Booker place was a very powerful place, place that BB king would go up until 4:00 the next morning.

Yvette Johnson: 1966 he went on national news program in D.C.and he talked about what it was like to be a black man in Greenwood.

Raymond De Felitta: This was a film my father made in 1966. He's 90 years old this summer. He never really knew what impact this movie had, but a few weeks ago, I put this movie on the internet, and all of a sudden we started hearing that this was something that people had been looking for for years. From one of the people that got in touch with us was Booker Wright's granddaughter, Yvette Johnson.

Yvette Johnson: I have this inkling pride to be related to somebody like him.

Video speaker: I understand he was also martyred.

Video Speaker: I had a talk with Booker. I said, you sure you want to do this? This picture is going to play all over the south. They are going to watch you in a sense ridicule them as being fools. The time has come. I got to talk the way I feel.

Video Speaker: When I saw it, I thought to myself, you're a dead man. They are going to kill you. Then I thought, he knows that. He understands exactly what he's saying.

Video Speaker: One of the policemen met Booker and just beat the hell out of him with a pistol.
Video Speaker: They destroyed his store. They came and practically bombed it. No one pretended justice was meted out on an equal basis between whites and blacks.
I knew there was going to be a killing.
I recall passing by him with a shotgun on the way to kill your grandfather.
I think that I should have just not used it. I really do.

Ted Simons: And joining me now to talk about Booker's place, a Mississippi story is co-producer Yvette Johnson and director Raymond De Felitta. Thank you for being year. Good to have you both here. Yvette, what did you know about your grandfather before all of this happened and who is your grandfather to you now?

Yvette Johnson: I knew very little about him. When I was growing up I knew that he owned a cafe and that he was murdered. During a course at ASU I learned that he said some provocative things in a news program but I didn't have access to the news program. A little over a year ago when Raymond and I connected I finally got to see the program and hear the words for myself. So initially he was just sort of this person in my family who I didn't know much about. Now he's a hero to me.

Ted Simons: When you first thought the first time you saw that particular footage, what did you think?

Yvette Johnson: I had mixed feelings. I felt so proud of him because what he said was so composed and eloquent and thoughtful, but also so insightful about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of racism. But I also felt very sad for him and I found myself wanting to reach back in time and embrace him because he really had a hard life.

Ted Simons: Yes. Indeed. Raymond, your father was involved with that particular film footage, correct? Talk to us about that connection and then your connection with Yvette.

Raymond De Felitta: My father Frank De Felitta was a producer at NBC news. He made a documentary called Mississippi, a self-portrait, which was supposed to be a look at the civil rights struggle from a white point of view in Mississippi. While there he met a waiter, Booker Wright. He heard the waiter deliver this sing song menu in the white’s only restaurant he worked in. My father thought it was fascinating and appalling, almost a Samo act that Booker had to do. My father asked if he would be interested in being in the documentary demonstrating what he did. Booker said yes, I'll do it. When they went to film it Booker started doing his routine, but then when he was done he went on. My father wasn't quite prepared for this, but he kept the cameras rolling and Booker delivered the speech, about a minute and a half, an incendiary, heartbreaking and fabulous speech about who he is and how he feels.

Ted Simons: We have excerpts of that speech. Let’s go ahead and take a look at this now again. This is Booker Right from that NBC special back in the 1960s.

Booker Wright: Some people nice. Some is not. Some call me Booker. Some call me John. Some call me Jim. Some call me N-- all that hurts but you have to smile. If you don't, what's wrong with you? Why you not smiling? You have to smile. Don't talk to Booker like that. His name is Booker. I got more people come in real nice, how you do, waiter? What's your name? I think if I'm so good and I keep that smile, always learn to smile. The meaner the man be the more you smile. I'm trying to make a living. Why? I got three children. I want them to get an education. I want to force them to get an education. They are doing good. Night after night I lay down and dream about what I had to go through. I don't want my children to have to go through it. I want them to be able to get the job they feel qualified. That's what I'm struggling for.

Ted Simons: Indeed as one of his grandchildren, you did not have to go through all that stuff. When you see that, does it feel like a different world?

Yvette Johnson: It does. It when I first heard about these comments that he had made I really wanted to understand why they were so provocative. I wanted to understand what Greenwood was like back then. It's like a different world. It was almost a terrorist state. You couldn't call the police if you were black. If you said something or tried to report something you could lose your job. You could be beaten and there would be no repercussions for the person that harmed you. I grew up in San Diego, California, with every opportunity available to me.

Ted Simons: Just absolutely -- to find -- how did you actually track this down? How did you discover that not only it exists but I can get hold of it?

Yvette Johnson: I first heard about the film from a professor at old miss. I was Googling the name Booker Wright, Booker's place and several pages down this document came up that mentioned him on the fly. He wasn't the focus of the document. I called old miss and spoke with this professor. He sounded so excited. He kept saying you're Booker Wright's granddaughter? I kept thinking he had the wrong Booker Wright. Eventually I realized we were talking about the same person. He hadn't seen the footage either but had heard about it and interviewed the people who had seen it. I actually created a blog space to keep track of my research and what I was learning about black history and civil rights. So Raymond actually our blogs bumped into one another.

Raymond De Felitta: None of this could have happened without the internet. I posted my father's film on YouTube because his films are not commercially available. So I thought let me just get them out there. I think they are wonderful time capsules of their period. Of course Mississippi self-portrait is one of them. Booker is on the internet, Yvette is on the internet and there we were.

Ted Simons: There you were, but you wound up making a documentary. How did that happen? How was the next step taken?

Raymond De Felitta: My producing partner saw the synergy happening. We had made another documentary together a few years ago and he said, there's too much going on here. Your father's work. She's researching the grandfather. Booker is connecting all of you. Let's get into this. Before we knew it, this is when movies get made they suddenly get made quickly. We were going to Greenwood, let's jump in, start meeting people and start finding out what happened to Booker.

Ted Simons: When you started the film, from your angle what did you want to happen? What did you want -- did you wind up getting what you wanted?

Yvette Johnson: What I wanted was probably a little unrealistic. I wanted to be able to truly know my grandfather. I wanted to take everyone's memories and be able to piece them together and reconstruct him and feel somehow like I was in relationship with him. And I realized when we had been in Greenwood five or six days and people kept telling us the same kinds of things about his personality I realized he was a very private man. Because he died the year before I was born I would never get to know him but that at least I could honor him.

Ted Simons: Tell us how he died. That's part of the story.

Yvette Johnson: Sure. He was after this film aired he was pistol-whipped by a white police officer and he continued over the years to experience harassment from this police officer. About seven years after the film aired he was murdered. We know who shot him. We know who pulled the trigger, but there really was no motive. So there are lots of different theories in Greenwood. People have lots of questions about why it happened. He was quite young.

Ted Simons: Fascinating story. You've made films, all kinds of films, and how did this film differ from what you usually do? Feature films would seem to be very different in kind of documentary.

Raymond De Felitta: With a feature film writing the screenplay is the most important element to me. I write my own movies, but with a documentary you're writing as you're shooting and you don’t quite know where you’re going and We rattled a lot of cages doing this. We saw some ghosts come back to life. That's how you find the movie within the documentary subject. So as we were doing it we started to find out, for instance, about the police officer who harassed and beat Booker, and we said, well, this actually starts to tell us a little bit about the murkiness of his murder. Was there actually some sort of cover-up going on in fact I think there was. It's clear to me there is. That's when you realize there's your movie, but you're not doing it as a writer but as the film maker in action.

Ted Simons: It puts constraints on you as a filmmaker but maybe you can get even more creative within those constraints.

Raymond De Felitta: It makes it an adventure up like anything else. You're doing detective work and making a movie.

Ted Simons: Your father is still alive?

Raymond De Felitta: Yes, and he's in the movie. He's thrilled that we did it. He feels we brought closure to something that always troubled him, should he have used the speech in the movie or not.

Ted Simons: What are his thoughts on that?

Raymond De Felitta: For many years he felt it's a quandary documentary filmmakers have. It frequently is not going to help the life of the subject whose footage it is. He always felt that maybe Booker didn't understand really how many people were going to see this film and the impact airing nationally on NBC would have on his life. But ultimately I think that he's come to have a different point of view of it now. Meeting Yvette has given him that closure that he did the right thing.

Ted Simons: Your family. What does your family think about this documentary? What does your family think now about your grandfather?

Yvette Johnson: Everyone is thrilled. He was always a special man, bigger than life, but he didn't actually tell many people what he had done on the news that day. A lot of people in my family didn’t know. It was amazing, sort of brought us together. I think the biggest thing it's given us a way to address civil rights and the history of blacks in America in a way that's very personal to our family but really infused with pride.

Ted Simons: Interesting. What do you think the legacy of your grandfather is?

Yvette Johnson: I think the biggest take-away is actually two. One just the power of the individual man. He was a waiter but he had such impact by just being brave when the time came. But the other thing I think, this is why I love that this is part of project humanities, is that race talking about race at that time just like now was very heated, very volatile. A lot of hitting below the belt. But what my grandfather did was he removed sort of the rhetoric and the anger and the hatred. He said, this is just what it feels like. He reminded people that behind this volatile issue there are individuals, and that we have sort of a shared humanity. We have things in common even when we disagree.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on a tremendous project both of you. Continued success. Good luck with this. You're still involved with your grandfather's story.

Yvette Johnson: Yes.

Ted Simons: Good luck with that as well.

High Technology in the Valley of the Sun

  |   Video
  • Barry Broome, President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, talks about what’s being done to transform the Valley into a hub for high technology.
  • Barry Broome - President & CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council
Category: Technology   |   Keywords: technology, valley, sun, hub, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. In our continuing coverage of Arizona technology and innovation, we consider what the valley has and if it has what it takes to become a hub for high-tech technology. Joining us in our discussion is Barry Broome, president and CEO of the greater Phoenix economic council. Thanks for joining us.

Barry Broome: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Where do we stand in terms of high-tech, in terms of high-tech growth?

Barry Broome: It's a mixed bag story. We're a major player in R. and D. growth in the mountain west region tied primarily to defense spending. Our defense contractor position is one of the top five in the country. We do a great job at new venture creation. We're from one of the top five in the country. The launching of new firms and jobs from new firms, but basically what we're missing is the ability to leverage a real platform technology position in the marketplace. We're missing being a deeper player in venture capital. The mechanics are all in place for the valley to be a major player in the high-tech sector, and in many ways we are, but when you look at our high-tech sector it's held by three companies. Intel, Boeing and Honeywell drive our high-tech position. We have a very strong high-tech ranking in many places, in the hands of three companies. You want that to be in the hands of Arizona state and University of Arizona more so than in the hands of two or three companies, two potentially under threat by sequestration.

Ted Simons: You want a broader base, don’t you?

Barry Broome: Right. You want to create an eco-system. If you look at Silicon Valley, which is the most commonly referred to market in the U.S., Silicon Valley, it was really named Silicon Valley out of chip manufacturing and the semiconductor sector. It's been a long time since that market was a chip-making haven for semiconductor. It went through Apple; it went through TEL-com, bio Tech, solenoid renewables. It's about being able to transfer technology as it changes through your eco-system while the infrastructure can evolve with that technology. It's more about creating a system than a technology position.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to that because I know Richard Florida, the city designer and the city theorist regarding eco-systems and the like. Proximity to California, labor costs, these sorts of things?

Barry Broome: There's a couple of things that work in our favor. One is culture. I'm an Ohio, Michigan guy. All of the mechanics are in Michigan for them to be an innovative, high-tech corridor, but culturally it's a corporate union town. Same with Chicago. Chicago is a corporate union town. Arizona is not a corporate union town. Arizona is a small business community. So I think culture is the biggest strength that we have going for us. In some technology sectors like digital platforms, very hard to measure but we have tracked over 300 digital companies just in Scottsdale, Arizona. So we have a big digital platform. This natural inclination to start companies, natural inclination to try new things, the legislature has done a great job keeping workers' comp and unemployment rates low. Some of the lowest in the nation. We're a highly deregulated environment. It's easy to start a company here.

Ted Simons: All that said, why aren't more companies doing that here?

Barry Broome: Well, what we don't have is an intentionally planned, is a prescribed science and technology strategy in the region. It's very difficult for get traction on that in a transient community. We don't have the forefathers that dig their heels in. The Hewlett Packard families are still driving a lot of activity in Silicon Valley. Hewlett Packard was the first company that memorialized the capabilities of Stanford innovation. We're still a young community that's somewhat transient. We have never made the right commitments in science and technology.

Ted Simons: Sounds like that answer contradicts what you said regarding corporate culture. It might be good to have a corporate umbrella here or someone that can shield, help these upstarts and others going. Seems like it's the Wild West, maybe too much Wild West.

Barry Broome: When I talk about corporate culture, you think of Chicago or New York City, those personify corporate culture. It's not necessarily a culture that produces innovation. If you go into north San Francisco, who is the big corporate player now in north San Francisco? It's Facebook. It's a company that's five or six years old. So that's the new guy. Zuckerman is the new guy that everyone is paying attention to. He wasn't even around seven years ago. When I talk about these institutional leaders, there's very few Hewlett Packards. Even Cisco and E-bay-PayPal, they are 15-year-old companies. At the end of the day it's still about the ability to invent. Intel was invented in northern California. As exciting as Intel is I think it was essentially formed in 1968. It's not that old of a company.

Ted Simons: You mentioned university access and how important that is. Are we doing enough when you consider the spinout companies coming from this collaboration?

Barry Broome: Right now we're looking at some of the data we have, 75% of University of Arizona graduates are leaving the state. Half the Arizona State University graduates are leaving the state. So we're producing these two very fine universities, northern Arizona university as well, but we track the big two because of the market we're in, and there's some very exciting technology that's coming out of the University of Arizona and the announcement today in the paper about the algae program being created by Gary Dirks, there's a lot of exciting things coming from our universities but we have to have a more dedicated sponsored research initiative in Arizona to back these universities. Then concurrently, we need to develop and build the capital markets in the venture capital space that will help develop those universities. What happens when you start to stick a Hewlett Packard or Intel or Apple or Facebook is it perpetuates that culture in the community. One problem in Arizona is our angel investment company are real estate professionals. What happens when your angel investors are real estate investors, the only thing they are contributing to the companies is money. When you look at the angel investment network in San Francisco or Michigan, where I was before I came here, when I launched a life science company in Michigan the angel investors were the founders of pharmacia and striker. Not only could they write a two, three, $500,000 investment in angel company, they had a rolodex and a network on how to introduce customers, how to help them develop their technology. You have to have enough money but smart money too.

Ted Simons: And I want to get back to Richard Florida. The eco-system I think is fascinating. He came out with a Tech index of major metropolitan places in the country. Phoenix is not in the top twenty. Tucson, Boulder, Colorado is. Raleigh, North Carolina. He talks about how regions need talent, they need technology and they need what he describes as tolerance, which is more of a cultural sort of a thing. Are we capable of getting there the way he sees that?

Barry Broome: I think we do. I think we're -- I don't believe we're that far away. I caught a little bit of heat because I said within five or six years I thought we could replace Silicon Valley. I believe we can do that. If you look now in the United States and these Tech corridors, they are beat up and tired. Boulder's is not, by the way. I just came back from there. They had 140,000 technology jobs. They’re trying to figure out where to put all their technology jobs. They can't host all of them. So Boulder is meeting with other cities in Colorado to see if they can take some of their technology jobs. We don't have that problem. Places like Austin, Silicon Valley in my opinion are a little bit tired. Here in Arizona we're going to settle back to the way with were five, six, seven years ago where I think we'll do a lot better job working together, a lot more optimistic about our future, but we cannot defund higher education. We cannot start the science foundation of Arizona then not back it up. We cannot afford to continue to muddle through an unplanned future for science and technology and get there. If we hit those marks we will get there. If you look at the success we're having now you can trace it back to the governor's leadership and the legislator’s leadership. These economic indicators that we are talking about that are very good are tied back to policy achievements of the last few years.

Ted Simons: Policy achievements of the last two years but also education cuts in the last two years.

Barry Broome: That’s got to be fixed. We have to stop saying funding doesn't matter to education. It does matter to education. You can look at the Chicago public schools or Cleveland public schools, you can go to 12,000 per pupil and fail but you'll fail at 3,000 per pupil too. You can't trade against that by saying funding doesn't matter. Funding does matter. Access to higher education does matter. The price of education at our universities really matter. The ability to sponsor science and technology so these innovators at the university can lay out five and ten-year plans and they know for certain they will be in a state that respects their work. That's how Dr. Crow has attracted people here. It's hard to hold on to that talent if all they see is potential. We have to evolve from potential to realizing that potential and we have to get serious about science and technology and we need to do that now.

Ted Simons: Alright, good stuff, Barry. Good to see you.

Barry Broome: Thank you