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‘The Parchman Ordeal, The Untold Story’ to air Oct. 8 on MPB

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Charles Evers, center, with civil rights marchers in Natchez in 1965.

JACKSON, Miss— “The Parchman Ordeal, The Untold Story” uncovers the abuse several African Americans endured after being arrested in Natchez and jailed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in 1965 for attempting to march for their civil rights. The 56-minute documentary will air at 2 p.m. Oct. 8, on MPB Television.

G. Mark LaFrancis of Natchez is the director. LaFrancis along with Darrell White, a historian and museum curator; and Robert Morgan, produced the film. White also narrates the film. “The Parchman Ordeal, The Untold Story” was recognized as the Most Transformative Film at the Crossroads Film Festival in April 2017.

At least 19 survivors of the ordeal share their stories in the film. They were among about 600 individuals who had attempted to march. Nearly 150 individuals – many teenagers and young adults -- were arrested and charged with parading without a permit. Some were sent to the local jail and some to the Natchez Auditorium. With no space left, the remainder were sent to Parchman.

Along with his mom and sister, Ronald Coleman, 69, of Natchez was one of those arrested and loaded on a bus to the prison. He was 17 at the time. The memories of the ordeal and being in Parchman for three-and-a-half days still haunt him today.

“It was one of the scariest rides of my life. I had never even heard of Parchman at that time. All of this for taking part in a peaceful gathering,” Coleman said. At the prison, Coleman said he and others were cursed at, stripped naked, body searched, and given a laxative. He was put in a cell of 8-12 others and given only a few corners of toilet tissue. “If that was their way of breaking us, they accomplished it,” he said.

“We were absolutely certain we had to tell this story,” LaFrancis said. “It’s extraordinarily dramatic and upsetting at times … the struggle is not over. The vigilance still needs to be acute to preserve voting rights for everyone.”

The film includes interviews with Gov. William Winter, Charles Evers, Stanley Nelson and the late Bill Minor. LaFrancis expressed thanks to MPB Television, Robert Luckett, a Jackson State University history professor; and others in the history and film professions for their advice to make his first major film a success. The Mississippi Humanities Council also provided a $2,000 grant for production.

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