“One Hundred Years From Mississippi,” is a documentary film about Mamie Lang Kirkland who was born over a century ago – in 1908 – in Ellisville, Mississippi and survived racial violence, personal tragedy and loss to become the mother of…
9 children, 17 grand children, 34 great-grand children, 66 great-great grandchildren, 5 great-great-great grandchildren, and an extended community of hundreds of friends from Buffalo to Los Angeles.
Forced to flee the Jim Crow South when her father and his friend John Hartfield were in danger of being lynched, Mamie was all of seven years old when she vowed never to step foot in Mississippi again. But Mamie Kirkland broke that vow 100 years later – when her only son convinced her to confront and conquer that horror by returning. As Mamie declared when she was honored by the Equal Justice Initiative at their annual fundraiser in New York City in 2016 as part of their lynching legacy project, “I left Mississippi a scared little girl of seven years old. Now I’m 107 and I’m not scared anymore.”
Fleeing to Illinois, Mamie survived the East St. Louis race riots, one of the bloodiest in 20th century America and the Ku Klux Klan in Alliance, Ohio. Reinforcing her vow to never go back to the South, in 1919, John Hartfield – who had been threatened with lynching along with Mamie’s father – did return to his hometown and became the victim of one of the most horrific acts of lynching in the era.
Mamie married at the age of 15, lost three children by the time she was 26 and lost her husband when she was 49. Even though she only managed to gather an eight grade education she has been recognized as one of Buffalo’s outstanding senior citizens by the Erie County Links Chapter and Coordinated Care’s Prime Time Awards, and she’s been featured on the front page of the New York Times.
Mamie also holds the record for being the oldest Avon representative having served 53 years under her belt.
Like many of the six million African Americans who left the Deep South during the Great Migration to escape racial violence, Mamie’s journey is testimony to the courage and hope epitomized by many of her generation. What is exceptional is her indomitable will, her contagious joy of living that she bequeaths to all who know her, and her longevity to be able to tell the story 107 years later. “One Hundred Years From Mississippi,” is not only a lesson in history, it is a lesson in how to live well.