Clopton screens documentary on 1947 Lanier High School bus boycott

September 15, 2016 in Education, Entertainment, News

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent

Contributing Writer

Filmmaker Wilma Mosley Clopton (2nd from right) converses with retired Jackson State University Political Science Professor Charles Holmes about the Lanier Bus Boycott of 1947. PHOTO BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT

Filmmaker Wilma Mosley Clopton (2nd from right) converses with retired Jackson State University Political Science Professor Charles Holmes about the Lanier Bus Boycott of 1947. PHOTO BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT

Before a standing room only crowd, Wilma Mosley Clopton, Ph.D., screened her documentary titled “Elport Chess and the Lanier High School Bus Boycott of 1947” at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is Lunch Series Sept. 7.

During the fall of 1947, Chess, a World War II veteran and student at Lanier, was arrested at the request of the city bus driver for refusing to give up his seat to a white woman. The school’s student body in turn retaliated by boycotting the bus. Chess is now deceased, but some students who boycotted and were featured in Clopton’s documentary were his classmates. They included Johnetta Jurden, Eula Morgan, Ella Robinson and Esau Wilson. They said that the city bus was divided into two sections: colored (referencing African Americans) on one side and whites (referencing Caucasians) on the other.

The Lanier students were designated to sit in the back of the bus. They wanted to know why they were being discriminated against and were not allowed to sit in the unoccupied seats on the bus.

Clopton explained, “Trying to get Mississippi history is hard at best. Getting black Mississippi history is confounding. Most of the people in the film are in their middle 80s. We don’t hear people who walk by us every day tell their stories because they have been discounted. They conclude that nobody wants to hear them because they’re older.

Telling stories is not just one voice, it’s the voice of the people. If we Mississippians want the world to know who we are, we can no longer be the silent majority.” Alexander Chess asserted that his father, Elport Chess Sr. was the forerunner of Rosa Parks. “The bus driver was extremely angry at the bus depot. He locked the doors and spoke to police and they pulled my father off the bus (and turned him over to) the police.”

Chess noted that his father was brave because he stood up to the system. When asked what she would tell young people today regarding history and present day experiences, Gwendolyn Chess, Alexander’s wife, said, “I would tell them to get involved but to educate themselves on their history. Know the cause. It’s not about the anger. It’s about the end results of what one is trying to accomplish. The people wanted equality and were fighting for inclusion.”

Last year the Mississippi Film and Video Alliance presented Clopton of NMHS Unlimited Film Productions, the Emerging Filmmaker Award for producing the film. In August of this year she received the African Diaspora World Tourism Award for her documentary of contributions of people of African descent in America. In her creation of short documentaries, the scholar acknowledges heroes who instill pride, strength and dignity in the state. Her ultimate objective is to improve the state’s image via storytelling by making it a better place to live.

Clopton is an award-winning graduate of the University of Mississippi Filmmaking Workshop and the Barefoot Filmmakers Workshop. To date she has produced 11 films, four books, one play and the Margaret Walker Alexander coloring book for children.

For inquiries, write filmmaker Clopton at NMHS Unlimited Productions, P. O. Box 534, Tougaloo, MS or call (601) 259-7598.

Jimmie Lewis Jr. (cousin), Gwendolyn Chess (Elport Chess’ daughter-in-law) and Alexander Chess (Elport Chess’ son) attend Wilma Clopton’s documentary screening of the Lanier Bus Boycott of 1947.

Jimmie Lewis Jr. (cousin), Gwendolyn Chess (Elport Chess’ daughter-in-law) and Alexander Chess (Elport Chess’ son) attend Wilma Clopton’s documentary screening of the Lanier Bus Boycott of 1947.

Alexander Chess, the son Elport, relates incidents of the Lanier High School Bus Boycott of 1947. PHOTOS BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT

Alexander Chess, the son Elport, relates incidents of the Lanier High School Bus Boycott of 1947. PHOTOS BY JANICE K. NEAL-VINCENT