Lee Anne Schmitt
Purge This Land
*Feature, 80 minutes 2017

In 1917, after the national guard allowed rioting white to kill over 100 black citizens and burn down black neighborhoods, Marcus Garvey gave a speech in which he said, “With all the service that the Negro gave he is still a despised creature in the eye of the white people, for if he were not to them despised, the whites of this country would never allow such outrages as the East St. Louis massacre."

Purge This Land is an essay film centered around the legacy of the radical abolitionist John Brown. The music for the piece was composed by my partner Jeff Parker and references black creative music coming out of Chicago and Detroit in the 1960's. He is also seen at the end of the film, along with my son.

The title is taken from John Brown's letter of 1859: 'I…am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.'

Purge This Land uses the image and legacy of John Brown to contemplate the culpability of White America in the ongoing disenfranchisement of Black America. The film combines images of sites of white racial violence with anecdotal history of John Brown’s radical ethics.

I could say that in the years I have worked on this film there has been an almost unrelenting amount of violence against young black bodies, but that would deny the systematic, ongoing and unrelenting violence against the black body that is American History. I began shooting this film 6 years ago. A year into filming I became pregnant with my son.

My son’s father is black, he descends from people who were enslaved on plantations in Virginia. My son will, unlike me, live as a black person in America. I will never full understand the impact that will have upon him, but I can document the historical conditions he was born into and the debt I owe to him, his father and his sister.
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