The documentary, entitled “Old South,” is part of the fourth season of the Emmy-nominated Brooklyn-based “America ReFramed” television series, which aims to tell personal stories that span the spectrum of American life.
“Old South” kicks off season four on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. on World channel.
Filmmaker and one-person crew, Danielle Beverly, moved to Athens to capture the three-and-a-half-years long battle to preserve a neighborhood and its culture.
The Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, an organization known for their strong ties to Confederate values, moved into the historically black neighborhood, causing an uproar in longtime residents.
At first, it appears the fraternity, who views themselves as polite, well-mannered young men, are completely oblivious to why residents would be angered by having their homes ripped down by those who align themselves with the controversial Confederate soldier Robert E. Lee.
“This is a film where race is in the forefront,” Beverly said. “It’s why I was interested. I knew that it was going to cause pain in a lot of people but I could also see that the fraternity did not understand why that was painful and that at the heart of it was race and history.”
After speaking with people in the neighborhood, Beverly was put in touch with Hope Iglehart, a soft-spoken fifth generation funeral director. Upon their first meeting, Beverly finds Iglehart seated under an oil portrait of her grandfather.
Beverly learns that Iglehart’s grandfather’s legacy and the home that her mother currently lives in — the only house remaining on the street with Kappa Alpha’s new fraternity house — is what she’s trying to fight to keep in tact.
“I’m going to be honest, when they told me they were going to fight for historical designation, I did not know what they meant and I did not understand the importance at first,” Beverly said. “It was so they could take control of what could be built while saying this community is to be honored.”
There is a lot of historical designation in the South, for a number of reasons.
It’s an interesting moment in historical designation, Beverly said, “because of all of the dialogue that is happening about what Southern identity and Southern heritage truly means and who owns that language.”
Throughout the documentary, viewers will witness Iglehart transform from being a concerned citizen about the happenings in her neighborhood to becoming a leader amongst the voiceless.
She organized countless meetings, went door-to-door to raise awareness of the issues at hand and led the way for the historical designation for the neighborhood. Even when the fraternity first arrives and disrespects her mother’s property, she makes the best of the situation by inviting them to a community festival.
“That’s the beauty in creating a longitudinal documentary,” Beverly said. “Hope did change over time; she was 30 years old when this event started in her life and over the she grew into community activism and was a different woman by the end.”
But Iglehart isn’t the only heroine in the area. There were women who fought alongside her, such as Amy Kissane of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. Kissane helped to get the neighborhood the historical designation.
And then there’s the northerner Karen Witten, who moves to Athens from Colorado and tries to create a community through a neighborhood garden.
Witten is a charmingly quirky woman, cleaning up the streets in the early mornings following Kappa Alpha parties with nothing but some gloves and plastic bags. Her effort most likely went unnoticed by the young men that she cleaned up after but Witten remained optimistic about community relations.
Ultimately, she too made significant strides in bringing together the men of Kappa Alpha and the community through the neighborhood garden.
Credit is also owed to Major Brannen, vice president of Kappa Alpha, who starts off distant from his new neighbors but by the end, he has developed a working relationship with Iglehart and other community leaders.
According to Beverly, she didn’t seek out the organization but rather he organically walked into the documentary.
“I hope that people stick with the young man in the fraternity for the whole movie to see how he’s experienced some change,” she said.
Rather than faulting the current fraternity members, Brannen and Beverly both alluded to responsibility of the alumni and those in higher positions with the organization to open the conversation about race, history and where we are as a country today.
And even though this situation is going on all over the South, it doesn’t mean that people from Queens and Brooklyn cannot relate. Beverly asked that you look into your own community’s feelings of misunderstanding one another and see this documentary as a proactive model in how to deal with those situations.
“In my hearts of hearts, I also hope people feel that they have understood a little bit about each person who is represented in the film,” Beverly said. “I want people to walk a little closer to someone in the documentary that they might not feel aligned to.”