Lamar Wilson's Poetry Recalling a Painful Past Becomes a PBS Special

Jul 24, 2019

A national broadcast beginning PBS this week will be of particular interest to North Florida viewers. At the same time, the TV program plumbs some unsettling history.

Poet and Professor Lamar Wilson
Credit Lamar Wilson

Today, Lamar Wilson is a celebrated poet and assistant professor of creative writing at Wake Forest University. But his background is all North Florida. He attended Florida A&M and, while admitted into FSU's PhD program, he went on complete his doctorate at the University of North Carolina. And what has and continues to impact his life and art is the place where he grew up.

"Even before I would write the poem that would inhabit my first book 'Sacrilegion,' I was trying to process and make sense of my own personal history and make sense of this really deep and troubling silence that I grew up with around the racial violence that has really haunted Marianna, Florida since its inception, but particularly since the early 20th Century," he explained by phone.

Although Wilson no longer lives in Marianna, he remains deeply connected. He's beyond appalled that a sheriff's deputy there stands accused of planting drug evidence on those he pulled over for traffic infractions. He mourns the latest reports that even more unmarked graves may exist on the grounds of the old Dozier School for Boys. (update as of July 23: preliminary investigation indicates the "ground anomalies" first suspected to be graves seem to be tree roots from a long-ago removed forest.)

"Particulary I'm hoping as a person who calls Marianna home that I can start a conversation about the way in which we have to atone for the things that have happened in order for us to move forward as a culture and community. Particularly right now because we're so divided along so many lines of difference."

Wilson's poem "Resurrection Sunday" and the half-marathon he runs every year in memory of lynching victim Claude Neal has now become a film.

"As one of the people in our film, Ray Gilbert - who's an attorney and someone I see as family and is like a brother to me - as he says in the film, 'It's hard for people to accept that the people that they love who were their granddad or uncle, who were kind to them and were generous, loving, Christian people, also did some really horrible things or allowed some really horrible things to be done."

But Wilson believes everyone must somehow come to terms with, not only the history, but also the present day ramifications of race relations in America. That's just one reason why the national television airing on PBS's "POV-Shorts" series is called "The Changing Same." It's a work that he says took many people to produce.

"Joe Brewster, Michele Stephenson and Ayana Enomoto-Hurst who are the directors and the lead producer reached out to me and brought me on as an associate producer. Ray Gilbert, the attorney of whom I spoke and the beautiful white couple, George and Pam Little. I didn't know them! I grew up in that town, they grew up in that town and I never knew them. They are largely ostracized in that town."

The Littles' home was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael last year. Wilson added that the production shows Marianna as it was before the storm and so has additional historical value. The program's first airing Monday, July 22 at 11:30 Eastern on WFSU-TV, Comcast Channel 5. Check your local listings for subsequent airings and the segment is also available for streaming at: https://www.pbs.org/pov/changingsame/.

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