When Gene Stowe saw the love and unity among races at a festival at Banks Presbyterian Church in Marvin in 1992, he knew he had to write a story about it.
Twenty-six years later, that story will be turned into a documentary celebrating racial unity.
Stowe, a former reporter from Monroe, wrote a series of newspaper stories about the historical events that brought the people of Marvin together. He furthered his research and wrote a book, titled “Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie’s Will,” over a period of 13 years. The book was published in 2006, complete with detailed court records and historical accounts of the events that happened. Stowe said the documentary will include even more, this time with a current perspective in mind.
The story follows two Marvin trials in 1921 and 1924, after two white sisters left their 800-acre property to an African American man and his daughter in their will. Stowe said 109 of the sisters’ cousins sued to break the will, but an all-white jury upheld the will in both trials. He said this decision was representative of the racial unity in Marvin and prevented the village from having racial issues in the future.
“When the book came out in 2006, it was history. But in the last few years, it’s become current events,” Stowe said. “The racial situation in the country has returned to something like what was going on around these women.”
Stowe said the decision set a precedent for others in Marvin.
“When an African American family owns 800 acres in a cotton economy, they’re participants,” Stowe said. “They’re players and it got to be normal to buy and sell land across the color line in Marvin. A lot of black tenants became land-owning farmers. There was economic justice and mutual respect that prevented Marvin from ever having any racial problems. This is why the people I saw at that festival knew each other so well and loved each other.”
Stowe was put in touch with producers Cylk Cozart and Jim Johnson, who will be responsible for making the nonfiction book come to life in the documentary.
Cozart and Johnson traveled to Marvin in August 2019 to attend and film the same festival the story was inspired by in 1992. Stowe said things were the exact same as they were the first time he witnessed it, with white and African American families interacting as true, close friends.
“The impact of this in Marvin is just incalculable,” Stowe said. “Marvin never had any racial struggles … They really knew each other and they really liked each other and it was amazing to me.”
Stowe said the producers interviewed descendants of key witnesses and the African American family impacted by the decision, which they will include in the documentary. He said the documentary will also include reenactments of the events, historical photos and footage of the places the events took place.
A three-minute trailer is expected to be finished by the end of the year, Stowe said. Then, the team will begin fundraising to make the production of this documentary a reality. He hopes it will be released sometime in 2020.
In his eyes, the message of unity in the story is more important today than ever before. He hopes the documentary’s message can make a bigger impact than the one in his book.
“A book published by the University of Mississippi Press does not make a big splash in the national waters,” Stowe said. “But a documentary by Cylk Cozart and Jim Johnson will.”
Stowe said he thinks the documentary will show Union County in a positive light to the rest of the country.
“I think it’s really going to put Union County on the map in the most positive way possible,” Stowe said.