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FADE IN: EXT. BURGESS, ALABAMA – FOOTAGE VO of JOHN COLLINS (FATHER) JOHN Now we're standing there. No one can believe that a man such as this would come up to us. Would come up to the most influential negro man in the world and spurt out the first thing that came out of his inbred of a cracker mouth. I didn't know what to say, hell I couldn't hardly breathe. I felt so embarrassed for this man that I turned whiter than he was. I couldn't hold my composure. Neither could anyone around us. I knew for sure that this group of negro men were going to beat this man into a death so deep not even the grim reaper could find him. Finally, as the tension rose so high I looked at Martin. He didn't care, I think he barely noticed the man. He finally looked to his left, then looked at me and you know what he said? (beat) Janee, do you know what he said? INTERCUT WITH: INT. COLLINS HOUSE – BURGESS – MORNING Close up shot of JANEE COLLINS JANEE I'm listening John. What did he say?
2. JOHN Well now I've got to start over. JANEE John, if you start over- by the time you finish the sun will be down. JOHN So now I don't know what anyone is going to do. I think I am looking at a dead man. So Martin turns to his left, then back to me and then he finally stares right into the man’s eyes. I swear I think he was trying to pull the racism straight from the white man’s soul. After a long pause Martin finally opened his mouth. He looked at this white devil and said.... Enters CYNTHIA CYNTHIA Mama. (beat) Can I go downtown with you and daddy today? JANEE May you go downtown with me and daddy today. CYNTHIA May I go downtown with you and daddy today? JANEE No baby, you know you can’t.
3. CYNTHIA Aw come on mama, I want to go with you. I want to be in the Freedom March with you and papa. JANEE Cynthia, It’s dangerous. There will be dogs, policemen and fire hoses. It’s no place for a little girl. CYNTHIA But I won't be alone. Other children are going. JANEE I told you no. Now go get ready for children’s choir before we don't even let you go to that.
CYNTHIA Daddy? JOHN You heard you mother and there is only one law in this land that is above Gods and Mans law- and that is your mothers. CYNTHIA Fine. INTERCUT WITH: CYNTHIA walking down hallway- VO of WALTER WALTER is a middle aged white man, leader of the United Klans of America. He shows age and hatred on his face.
4. WALTER The Nigger is the cancer of America. It is the wound that my dog would not lick, the infestation that a maggot would not even let his lowly self be accompanied. Just listen to the word Nigger. I know what you all are thinking. It is a word that plagues our tongue because of the very people it describes. But I dare disagree. It is an elegant word that has been given to us by the lord to describe the scum and filth of those that are not even considered his forgotten children, but the mere afterbirth of a damned race. Now I stand before you, telling you that we will not wait on the lord any more. No, we are the chosen hand of God and as such we will move swiftly- and we will put down the wrath on this Nigger Nation. Now I ask, who among you has heard the call of the Almighty? Who here is willing to dedicate your life, your family, your destiny to doing the Lords' work? Is it you? Or perhaps none of you? Is it any man in this room or have my words fallen on deaf ears? Who here is willing to do be as mighty as the hand of God? Come forth if you have the backbone to stand against the negro devil. Gumption is not your enemy here.
WALTER looks through the crowd. Multiple hands rise as men shout in agreement. Men start to move forward. WALTER sees a shy, meek man in the front row- walks up to him. CLAYTON is a mid-30's, boyish looking man. Meek in appearance but wishes better things for himself.
5. WALTER And you, son, what has God commanded of you? CLAYTON I don't know, sir. WALTER Has he commanded you to walk in the valley of the weak? CLAYTON No..... WALTER Has he commanded you to stand on uneven ground? Did he command you to stand amongst a crowd of cowards, or did he perhaps command you to lead your fellow men into the battle for righteousness, as Abraham led the Israelites? CLAYTON I think... WALTER Thinking in moments that call for action will get you in a lot of trouble, boy. Now do you wish to be a leader of men, or a follower of the meek? CLAYTON I wish to be a leader.
6. WALTER Then why are you still standing with the stagnant? You are a leader and I see it. The Lord has let me see it. Now go and lead. Let us break the ground of this Nigger Nation, right out from below their black feet.
EXT. CHURCH - MID DAY JANEE & CYNTHIA are walking towards church door. BRIAN JEPSON, Children’s Choir Director, is standing in front of steps. BRIAN Good morning Mrs. Collins. JANEE Good morning, reverend. BRIAN Glad to see you, Cynthia. The choir just doesn’t sound right when you’re not here. Have you been practicing your hymns? CYNTHIA Yes, Mr. Jepson. BRIAN Well I’m very pleased to hear that, and so is the Lord. Run inside now, I need to talk to your mother for a minute. CYNTHIA runs inside church, is met by friends.
7. JANEE I know you’re worried reverend, but you really shouldn’t. It’s just a small march today. We’ll be back by the time you finish practice. BRIAN I am worried. I’ve heard rumors that John has become more active. JANEE Yes this is true. BRIAN Rumors of him standing with Dr. King. JANEE raises her eyes to BRIAN. BRIAN Don’t misunderstand me Janee, I see the importance of this pride within your community. It is a great thing that John is doing, but can you say that these things are worth doing at the risk of your family? Think of Cynthia in there. Is what you are doing worth the chance of her growing up without a father, or a mother?
8. JANEE Reverend, I don’t mean no disrespect but I would have expected more support from the pastor of the only integrated church in Burgess. What is the point of her growing up, if she has nothing to grow up for? Have you ever felt the shame of trying to explain to your child why she cannot take a drink in the park because she is too young to read the sign above the water fountain that says “Whites Only”? Have you ever tried telling them why they have to go thirsty though there is water right beside of them? Until you know what that’s like, don’t try to tell me what is and isn’t worth fighting for. INTERCUT WITH: GOSPEL MUSIC
INT. CHILDRENS CHOIR SINGING Small southern church. Children’s Choir singing, integrated. INTERCUT WITH:
INT. WOODEN SHED Multiple men are assembling dynamite into a wooden box. WALTER is seen in the room instructing. A makeshift timer & wires are added to the bomb. CLAYTON comes into view with a paintbrush- writing with very distinguishable writing “GOD’S REGARDS TO THE NIGGER NATION”. Top is closed, hammered shut. Outside logo on box says “THE HOLY BIBLE OF A SOVEREIGN NATION, 1963 SIXTEENTH ST. BIRMINGHAM, AL 37604”. INTERCUT WITH: INT. CHILDRENS CHOIR SINGING
9. Camera panning closer to children, music gets louder. INTERCUT WITH: EXT. OUTSIDE OF CHURCH First Person POV of a man carrying the wooden box. INTERCUT WITH: INT. CHILDRENS CHOIR SINGING Camera panning closer to children, music gets louder. INTERCUT WITH: EXT. OUTSIDE OF CHURCH First Person POV of a man carrying the wooden box- seeing steps at feet. INTERCUT WITH: INT. CHILDRENS CHOIR SINGING Camera panning closer to children, music gets louder. Pan onto CYNTHIA'S face. INTERCUT WITH: EXT. OUTSIDE CHURCH CLAYTON sliding the box underneath the steps of the church; walking off. INTERCUT WITH: INT. CHILDRENS CHOIR SINGING Pans closer to children until CYNTHBIA'S face is the only one in view. Music goes silent as flash to bright white. INTERCUT WITH: EXT. CHURCH RUBBLE - NIGHT JOHN is holding back JANEE as she screams and tries to run toward rubble. Silence.
10. EXT. CHURCH RUBBLE – MORNING JESS ROTH (Mayor) is standing outside of church rubble speaking to a patched up BRIAN JEPSON.
JESS What is the status of the victims? BRIAN As of right now three have passed. Seven more are still in the hospital and two of those are in critical condition. JESS You’re lucky to have made it out alive yourself. You need to go home and get some rest, pastor. BRIAN My church needs me right now. I’m going to spend the day with the girls’ families. If you need to find me, I’ll be at the commons. JESS Thank you for taking care of them. I’m glad there’s someone here to bring them some comfort. BRIAN Comfort comes from the Lord, not from me. I am merely a servant.
11. JESS I don’t remember the Lord stepping in to protect those girls when the bomb went off yesterday. BRIAN It’s not our place to question His plan, mayor. Only He knows why such things happen. God has always had his hand on us and all we can do is pray for Him to grant us strength as we comfort each other as best we can. The Lord will reveal His true intent when we are ready to understand it. BRIAN leaves. JESS. EDWARD POOR (Mayor's Adviser) walks up to
EDWARD Mayor, we've just gotten an update. Mary Blevins has passed away. JESS Jesus Christ. What I'd give to have the bastards in front of me right now. JESS looks up and notices silhouettes of men standing in the distance, watching. They are too far away for faces to be recognized but they are numerous and in every direction. EDWARD I’d be very, very careful how you handle this investigation, mayor. Nobody is in a hurry to see the perpetrators punished or even tried. Half the men in this town are Klansmen and you’d only exacerbate the issue if you dig too deeply into this.
12. JESS Four little girls are dead; it's already exacerbated! EDWARD If you’re willing to have the Klan lynch you like they do those colored boys, then that’s your business. But I am not about to risk my life for a couple of colored choir girls whose families were foolish enough to try and integrate a church. If you go after these men, you’ll be starting a war and nobody is going to be on your side, not me or anyone else on your staff. You’re still green mayor, but when you’ve been in politics in this town as long as I have, you accept that you have to choose the things you're willing to stand up for. I advise you to do the same.
JESS ROTH glances wooden box laying As he stands back a distance gazing
to the on the up, he at the
ground, noticing a piece of the ground with the written lettering. looks again at the men standing at two speaking. EDWARD
Take my advice. If you’re smart, you’ll go through the motions for setting up an investigation and drag it out until the town has long abandoned the support of this thing.
INT. CHAPEL – NIGHT – NEXT WEEK JESS walks in through front door. BRIAN is standing in front of door finishing his service. The chapel is crowded, clearly a makeshift replacement for the church
13. where the congregation used to gather. JOHN is among the churchgoers. JESS stands in the corner and watches. BRIAN And brothers and sisters, let us go forth and fight back against this evil, not by spilling more blood but by being living examples of god’s love and forgiveness. Show his graciousness upon the earth. The lord blesses those who live according to his will, and he himself shall bring justice upon the heads of the evildoers who torment his people. It won't be easy, but we must do our best. Crowd disperses. BRIAN stands by the door as churchgoers leave. When the last churchgoer has left, BRIAN sits down in the first pew and looks exhausted. JESS approaches and sits down next to BRIAN. JESS I’m very impressed. Not many preachers would have the courage to hold a service right after the Klan destroyed his church. BRIAN They can destroy our building but they can’t frighten us into turning our backs on the lord or each other. Then they’ve really won. JESS How are the girls’ families holding up? BRIAN As well as you could expect them to, I suppose. They’re leaning on their faith. It’s all they have left right now.
14. (beat) JESS Pastor, I’ll admit I'm not much of a churchgoer but I could really use some godly advice. What am I supposed to do with this mess? BRIAN Do your job. Fulfill your duties as mayor and over the investigation. Everything you’re already doing. JESS You and I both know that isn’t nearly enough. The Burgess legal system is crawling with Klan. Those families will never see justice if all I do is keep my head down. BRIAN It’s alright to want justice and to feel outrage against those who did this. But beware of the temptation of vengeance. Vengeance will eat at your soul until you can’t tell the difference between justice and revenge. Our legal system is designed to serve justice and it will do its job if you let it. All you need to do is make sure you don’t get in the way. Loud yelling from outside, sound of rocks hitting the front door. Klansmen are outside with a burning cross.
15. JEFF Mayor Roth. I always knew that preacher was a nigger lover, but if I’d knew you were the same you'd never gotten my vote. The line’s been drawn, mayor. We won’t bother you none but you drop this investigation now. Those niggers got what they deserved. Don't do something stupid for a bunch of niggers. JESS You’ve got three seconds to get out of here or I’m going to give you another hole to talk out of. JEFF Come out here and say that nigger lover. Molotov cocktail is lit. As cocked back JESS runs forth. Molotov is dropped and Klansmen scatter. JESS catches a Klansman and barely snags the hood, dropping it to the ground; Klansman gets away. JESS goes back and picks up the hood. The face is blackened out by the mud. JESS walks toward BRIAN, whose back is turned towards him and head is bowed as if in prayer. JESS You may be right, Pastor. is beyond me. BRIAN When? When the rest of my choir has been blown to bits by those in-breeders? When every mother in Burgess is planning a funeral with an undersized casket? How much more of this are we supposed to bear? How long am I supposed to turn the other cheek and How long can we wait for God? JESS is taken aback, staring at BRIAN. This
16. BRIAN I haven’t slept a single night and I don’t have anything more to offer. You know there’s no way out of this. We’re surrounded by monsters and they have no reason to fear anything.
JESS I’ve never seen a preacher give his sermon from the front door before. BRIAN I'm starting to think I had it all wrong. I used to think that as the shepherd of the flock I was protecting my sheep by gathering them around me, but I was only protecting myself. I was at the pulpit that day, in the deepest, safest part of the church. It was the children in the choir who were standing by the door. JESS You can’t blame yourself for this. BRIAN Go home, mayor. to be done. There’s nothing
BRIAN walks off screen. JESS stares after him, then glances down at the mask.
INT. MAYORS OFFICE – NEXT DAY JESS working. office. His desk is covered with papers. BETH enters
17. BETH Mr. Roth, your daughter is here to see you. JESS Why is she not in school? HILARY ROTH bursts into the office HILARY Daddy! JESS Honey, why aren’t you at school? HILARY There were protests outside of class so the teachers closed school early. Mom has to take grandma to the doctors again so she said to come here with you. JESS Well, I guess we don’t have a choice. You can sit by the window and do your homework. I have work to do now. HILARY Dad? JESS Yes, Hilary? work. I’m trying to
18. HILARY It was kind of scary today. School’s been weird. None of the teachers will talk about Cynthia or the other girls, either. They just took their desks away. JESS I know you miss your friends. HILARY It doesn’t feel right. this happen? JESS There are some bad people out there who disagreed with some things the church did. Because the people were different than them. You’ll understand when you’re older. HILARY Why can’t I understand now? JESS I’m not sure if anyone understands now. Knock at the door. BETH is standing there with JOHN. Why did
BETH Mr. Roth, Mr. Collins would like to speak with you. JESS John! What are you doing at the office? You know you can come by the house any time.
19. JOHN I’m here because I want to talk to you in your office today. As the mayor. JESS Well come in, have a seat. HILARY Hi Mr. Collins. JOHN Hi little miss. HILARY I’m sorry about Cynthia, Mr. Collins. I miss her a lot. JESS Beth, would you please take Hilary to your office? I won't be long, honey. JESS I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you and Janee. I’ve been running nonstop. JOHN Have you? It doesn’t look like your running is getting you anywhere. Why haven’t any arrests been made? Everyone knows who did it. What’s taking so god damn long?
20. JESS John, I’m doing the best I can. These things take time, you know that. JOHN Do they? If there were four white girls in the ground right now instead of four black ones, do you think you’d be sitting here telling me these things take time? Forgive me if I sound disrespectful, but I’m pretty sure the whole town would be trying to chase down these bastards and you’d be running ragged to get a trial set up before the sun sets on Burgess. I’m pretty sure that’s what would be happening if this wasn’t about four colored girls, isn't it? JESS John, what do you think I'm working on right now? JOHN You made me a promise, Jess. When you asked me to rally my people behind you and help make you mayor, you promised that you’d change this town and make life better for me and all the black families you grew up down the street from. Turns out you ain't different. You’re just like the rest of them, turn a blind eye cause ain’t nothing you can do about the Klan. You’re not the Jess Roth I grew up with. You’re just a shitty reflection of who you once were, wearing a better suit.
21. JESS Well, what do you want me to do then? Go out there and catch them myself? JOHN Do your job. You’re the one we elected. You figure it out. We don't need shielding, Jess. Wars aren't won with shields. They're won with weapons. Just know that if you don’t bring about justice your way, I’m going to do it my way. JOHN leaves and slams the door behind him. As door closes JESS pulls out the wood from the wreckage. He opens a folder with an Anti-Segregation Petition with signatures. Scanning petition camera shows a signature with letters matching to the wood. Three very recognizable marks are shown. Shot of JESS' face while voiceover of EDWARD, BRIAN, HILARY, and JOHN about the conflict of not being able to do anything.
EXT. ABANDONED PARKING LOT – NIGHT Outline of a man walking in an abandoned parking lot towards CLAYTON putting wooden boxes in his trunk. Tarantino-esque trunk shot of JESS walking behind CLAYTON, putting on mask and hitting CLAYTON in the head a pipe. Cut to black. INTERCUT WITH: EXT. WOODLANDS BY POND – MILES FROM ANYTHING Shot opens of JESS with mask half on, smoking. JESS throws down cigarette and pulls mask over his face, throws water on CLAYTON- waking him. CLAYTON is hanging on the burnt cross from earlier. CLAYTON Shit, what is this.
22. JESS You know what this is. This is where you come to pay for your sins. CLAYTON Sins? What sins? What fucking sins? JESS When you stand before St. Peter are you going to ask that same stupid fucking question? Did those girls deserve to die? Did they? Give me an answer or this breath will be your last. CLAYTON Oh fuck. I didn't.... JESS You didn't what? Consider that your actions had consequences? CLAYTON I can make amends. JESS How? CLAYTON This isn't right. JESS You don't get to decide what is right. Right has already come and gone for you.
23. CLAYTON Please JESS When I was a teenager my single mother worked two full time jobs. In the evening I would spend it in the streets with my friends. When I was seventeen I, along with some friends, stole from our local convenience store. When my mom found out, she sent me to sunday schoolright after the beating of my lifetime. She told me: Son, your hands are dirty, and they need to get cleaned. (BEAT) And son, your hands are very dirty. COMMENCE MONTAGE “Muddy Waters” by If Birds Could Fly JESS kicks cross from behind. Clayton falls in water, struggles, and drowns. INTERCUT WITH: Man getting in his car. Slow motion of HOODED JESS sitting up in back seat, shotgun over shoulder. Shot of man turning keys, cut to exterior window blood splatter shot. INTERCUT WITH: Two policemen harassing a black man. COP #1 We told you boy, this is the wrong part of town for you. Are you stupid or just plain nigger? COP 1 knocks BLACK MAN to ground, against wall.
24. COP #2 It's going to be a long time before your black ass walks in our county again. As COP 1&2 rear back nightsticks HOODED JESS smashes both cops from behind straight into brick wall.
INTERCUT WITH: Two KKK members walking to car, starting car. Hold suspense. Lights come on to show HOODED JESS. JESS lights a zippo, drops it, and car engulfs in flames. Shot of door handles having been taken off. END OF MONTAGE
INT. COLLINS HOUSE – MORNING - NEXT WEEK JANEE COLLINS fixing breakfast, JOHN COLLINS at table. Mood is solemn. JANEE serves breakfast. Both sit in despair. JOHN turns over paper to see article about hooded vigilante. Both stare at one another. JANEE At least someone's willing to do something. JOHN How can you say something like that? JANEE How can you sit here and do nothing? JOHN Everything I do and everything I did was to give a better life for you and Cynthia.
25. JANEE And where did that get us? How are we better off now? We might have not had it good but we had it together. JOHN Don't think I would not change things if that were possible. I stood Dr. King to end things like what happened to us. I can't change what's happened, Jane, I can only do what I know is right. JANEE It ain’t Dr. King’s daughter lying in the ground and it ain’t his family in a town where nobody’s been man enough to stand up to the Klan. JOHN What you’re talking about is revenge, not justice. Ain’t no revenge in the world going to bring Cynthia back. JANEE I'm not telling you to decide what it is. These men killed four innocent children and they wouldn’t think twice about doing it again. They deserved to die.
EXT. MAYORS OFFICE – EVENING - LATER
26. WALTER Follow justice, and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God has given you. Are we going to let a vigilante take our men? CROWD YELLER We have to go to the sheriff. WALTER Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. You expect the sheriff to serve your justice? Did Caesar expect the jester to do his work? The Lord loves those who serve justice and righteousness. CROWD YELLER What should we do? WALTER We do what is right. We uphold the will of the Father. JOHN walks down the sidewalk towards crowd. As he walks up the stairs towards the front door he makes eye contact with WALTER.
INT. MAYORS OFFICE- MOMENTS LATER JESS walks in, immediately dials phone. JESS Sheriff, we've got some people out here that seem to be looking for nothing but trouble. See what you can do to get them to move along.
27. BETH They've been out there like this for hours. JESS I wonder when the government gave us freedom of speech that they knew that it would be the dumbest that were the loudest. BETH It seems like things are getting worse for everyone. JESS Everything is just under pressure right now. Things will build up, then it will settle down.
INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT – HOURS LATER Tea kettle whistles. JESS makes a cup of tea, sips and puts cup down. JESS takes kettle and walks down a corridor, putting mask on.
INT. DINING ROOM – MOMENTS LATER WALTER is strapped to dining table, unable to escape. JESS I’m going to need you to wake up. JESS pours boiling water over WALTER’S crotch. WALTER Oh Jesus Christ.
28. JESS It’s been too long you’ve been plaguing the people of this county. WALTER I've done nothing but clean up the filth that came to our town a hundred years ago. JESS You can’t justify what you’ve done. Were those little girls the filth? Were they deserving of what you did to them? Was a church considered filth? How can you say you are trying to clean up the filth when you are the filth. WALTER You can’t do shit to me. If you kill me, there will be someone right behind me to replace me. JESS Look around you. Who is there? Your members keep dropping off like flies. No one wants to stand in your shoes because the person in those shoes is fucked. WALTER Fuck you. JESS You don’t know the meaning of it yet.
29. WALTER You can’t do anything to the Klan. You may think you’re tough, but there isn’t a thing you can do to me you won’t pay for. Killing a white man over a nigger. Someone will find you, someone will torture and kill you. A Klansman, the police, the mayor. You won’t do anything to me, JESS You’re right. (Lifts up mask) I’m not going to do anything to you. Door opens. JOHN COLLINS is standing in doorway. JESS walks out, door closes behind. CUT TO BLACK CREDITS
30. Ballad of Birmingham BY DUDLEY RANDALL (On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963) “Mother dear, may I go downtown Instead of out to play, And march the streets of Birmingham In a Freedom March today?” “No, baby, no, you may not go, For the dogs are fierce and wild, And clubs and hoses, guns and jails Aren’t good for a little child.” “But, mother, I won’t be alone. Other children will go with me, And march the streets of Birmingham To make our country free.” “No, baby, no, you may not go, For I fear those guns will fire. But you may go to church instead And sing in the children’s choir.” She And And And has combed and brushed her night-dark hair, bathed rose petal sweet, drawn white gloves on her small brown hands, white shoes on her feet.
The mother smiled to know her child Was in the sacred place, But that smile was the last smile To come upon her face. For when she heard the explosion, Her eyes grew wet and wild. She raced through the streets of Birmingham Calling for her child. She clawed through bits of glass and brick, Then lifted out a shoe. “O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, But, baby, where are you?”
Written by David A. Roop Based on the Poem “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall
David A. Roop DavidARoop@Gmail.com 702.572.3398
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