Osceola Mays: Stories, Songs, and Poems

Directed by Alan Govenar


Details: Osceola Mays: Stories, Songs, and Poems 1996, 16mm Film and Video, 28:30, color, Produced by Documentary Arts, Inc., Directed by Alan Govenar, Cinematography by Robert Tullier, Edited by Andrew Dean

Osceola Mays sits at the table without moving. She closes her eyes and starts to say something, but then covers her mouth with the palm of her hand as if to hold back her voice. There is a short pause, and then she begins to sing. The words come forth with a steady rhythm, and her body sways forward and back. The notes are long and deep, deliberately flatted, calling forth the memories of the spirituals she heard as a child, "Trouble I've Seen," "Run, Sinner, Run," "Steal Away" and others that come and go as the morning becomes afternoon.

The setting is simple, but the stories, songs, and poems of Osceola Mays are remarkable indeed. In them, the past is recounted with a reverent intensity that expresses the deeply felt emotions of three generations of black Texans. The harsh realities of segregation and discrimination are juxtaposed with the importance of family and community life in these spirituals and poems learned by Osceola Mays from her mother, Azalene Douglas, and her grandmother, Laura Walker, who was ten years old when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed to end slavery. Together, the stories, songs and poems of Osceola Mays are a metaphor for the African-American struggle for survival and chronicle three generations of suffering and hope.