As outsiders chronicled the rich cultural legacy and historic preservation efforts in the Joppa neighborhood of southern Dallas, the residents who live in the community felt like they needed to tell their own story.
So community advocates commissioned documentary filmmaker Curshion Jones for a project celebrating last year’s 150th anniversary of one of the few preserved freedman’s towns in North Texas. Created in conjunction with the South Central Civic League, 150 Years of Resiliency: A Joppa Documentary will have its first public screening this weekend as part of the Denton Black Film Festival.
“There’s been a lot of news coverage. They wanted to tell it from their point of view,” Jones said. “There was no history in terms of tangible things other than just hearing the stories.”
Joppa — which is pronounced and was originally spelled Joppee — was one of more than 30 freedman’s communities formed in North Texas in the decade following the abolition of slavery. Situated between Interstate 45 and the Great Trinity Forest, with railroad tracks on one side and the Trinity River on the other, the neighborhood is known for its “shotgun houses” that date back generations. The land was annexed by the city of Dallas in 1955. Today, there are about 300 homes and a population of less than 1,000.
Mixing interviews with historians and residents with archival photos and footage, the 32-minute film focuses on the ongoing civic effort to balance history and modernization in the face of systemic neglect in terms of social services and infrastructure.
Jones, who operates Arlington-based Cue & Coda Films, wanted to salute the community’s pioneers and those who have inherited those leadership roles. His chief guide was SCCL executive director and community activist Shalondria Galimore, who is credited as a writer on the film.
“I was astonished by what I learned. I was happy to be a part of it,” Jones said. “I wanted to be delicate in telling this story, but I was guided very well by the community.”
Jones and Galimore are planning to team up for another project surrounding the planned transformation of Joppa’s abandoned Melissa Pierce School into a multipurpose center with modern amenities. That was important for Jones, too, to spotlight a promising future in addition to creating a visual document about the pride and struggles of the past.
“We had to show the optimism. This community is there and standing vocal and vigilant,” Jones said. “I really want to ruffle some feathers around gentrification. I want the audience to see how they can get behind this. I want to get the conversation started.”
Jones, Galimore, and more will attend the screening on Saturday in Denton and participate in a post-screening Q&A session.
The film is one of two short documentaries premiering at DBFF to focus on gentrification and historic preservation in old freedman’s towns. Lindell Singleton’s Echoes from the Hill centers on a five-block area of north Arlington known as “The Hill.”
The festival runs in-person through Sunday in Denton, with programs featuring cinema, art, dance, spoken word, workshops, and more — including many with local ties. Several selections also will be available for online viewing through Feb. 4.