At its very inception, Missouri was a symbol of social and political fury. The state was admitted into the union in 1820 after a flurry of debate between the pro-slave and pro-free state factions of Congress. The debate was finally resolved by the Missouri Compromise when Maine was allowed into the union as a free state at the same time as Missouri, thus maintaining a balance of power in Congress.
The latest sociopolitical conflagration, of course, was the August 2014 killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in the town of Ferguson.
The town of Kinloch sits right next to Ferguson and many of Ferguson’s residents, or their parents, formerly lived in Kinloch, the first incorporated Black town in Missouri. Ferguson was a White town.
The new documentary “Where The Pavement Ends,” on the WORLD Channel and streaming on LINK TV as part of the annual “America ReFramed” series, links the two towns together. The film focuses on a silent, but powerful symbol of the overt segregation that marked America after the abolition of slavery—a cement barrier that separated the two towns for decades.
Wilson was never indicted for murder in the Brown case. The incident, the latest in a long line of shootings of unarmed Black men by police, made international news and was seen by many as yet another deadly manifestation of White supremacy and the legacy of Jim Crow.
The Justice Department subsequently issued a report recommending an overhaul of law enforcement in the embattled city. It found that Ferguson was, according to the New York Times, “a city that used its police and courts as money-making ventures, a place where officers stopped and handcuffed people without probable cause, hurled racial slurs, used stun guns without provocation.”
“Where The Pavement Ends” tries to trace the connections between the issues Blacks face in Ferguson to Kinloch’s history, showing viewers that they are, in fact, two halves of one story. The doc explores how the forces that instigated a decades-long fight for Kinloch residents to reclaim their dignity and assert their equality, were the same forces that led to the death of Mike Brown.
The story of Kinloch is literally as old as post-Civil War America itself, a tale of segregation and the gaslighting that allows it to endure. The cement barrier that divided Kinloch from Ferguson seemed, says former residents, to just always be there. No one who was interviewed, many of them born in the mid-20th century, could remember a time when it wasn’t there. They all also knew without being explicitly told why the barrier was there. Said one former resident of Kinloch in the documentary, “It made you feel like, ‘They think I’m inferior.’”
“Where The Pavement Ends” has an unhurried pace and muted tone distinct from the passionate protests caught on television and social media in the aftermath of Brown’s death. In great part that’s because Kinloch is a ghost town. Once inhabited by thousands, its current population has barely three hundred people. Steady and deliberative, the images of Kinloch’s desolate streets, abandoned buildings, and cracked or missing asphalt evoke despair as they float depressingly across the screen. Taken together the images paint a dream deferred in much the same way as perhaps, the promise of Brown’s own short life.
Much of the documentary is an auditory exercise: voiceover narrations by current and former residents,; the fateful police dispatch call that led to the killing of Mike Brown; recitation of a letter written by one of the program’s participants Julia Boyd, and the reverend of a local church in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
King’s assassination led to finally removing the cement traffic divider splitting Kinloch and Ferguson. Fearing anger would spill over into violence, removal of the symbolic barrier in 1968 seemed logical for Ferguson’s Whites at that point. Not long before that, though, a former Ferguson mayor recounted that “all hell broke loose” among his constituents when he agreed to remove the cement barrier at the request of a Kinloch community leader.
The archival photos juxtapose Kinloch before and after the barrier was removed and reveal that progress stole, even as it gave. There are pre-Civil Rights era photos of close-knit Black working-class residents, Black-owned businesses and Black teachers who taught with an eye toward instilling pride in Kinloch’s students. The film seems to ask, was integration worth it?
Watch“Where The Pavement Ends” and decide.
“Where The Pavement Ends,” can be viewed on the streaming channels: worldchannel.org, pbs.org, and www.amdoc.org.