The gripping story of Mississippi waiter Booker Wright (pictured) and his revealing appearance in a 1966 documentary filmed during the Civil Rights Movement has Wright’s family speculating whether his appearance in the film led to his murder. A chilling video clip from journalist Frank DeFellita‘s NBC documentary “Mississippi: A Self-Portrait” featured a two-minute interview with Wright who spoke on the injustices he faced and his struggle to remain dignified despite the racial abuse. This past weekend, Dateline and MSNBC published a detailed report of the video.
“Some people are nice. Some is not. Some call me ‘Booker,’ some call me ‘John,’ some call me ‘Jim.’ Some call me ‘n—er.’ All that hurts, but you have to smile,” Wright says in the black-and-white clip. Wright would continue later in the video with, “The meaner the man be, the more you smile, although you’re crying on the inside. Although you’re wondering what else can I do? Sometimes he’ll tip you, sometimes he’ll say, ‘I’m not going to top the n—er, don’t look for no tip.”’
DeFellita’s son, Ray, and Wright’s granddaughter Yvette Johnson created a follow-up documentary, “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” in 2011, after the Wright footage was posted on the Internet. The documentary debuted at the TriBeCa Film Festival in New York this year.
Watch Ray and Johnson discuss their documentary here:
Ms. Johnson, a San Diego resident, has been tracing her family’s history back to the South, alleging that her grandfather may have been murdered in retaliation for his openness about the racist slurs and mistreatment he was forced to withstand while working at the high-end Lusco’s restaurant.
When the 1966 documentary aired, Wright was beaten and then fired from his job. He would go on to create a small restaurant of his own. Unfortunately, Wright was killed by a Black diner in his café – who Ms. Johnson believed was a hired hitman.
The most-compelling detail about watching the clip is that Wright sacrificed his pride for the sake of his children, maintaining a sense of professionalism even with the full knowledge that what was happening to him was unjust. Amazingly, Wright understood the gravity of his words but wasn’t afraid of the backlash, although he would eventually estrange himself from DeFellita after suffering the beating.
Forty six years later, justice may be too late for Booker Wright, but for his family, there may be a fitting closure to a family mystery that have dogged the family for decades.