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Leaving Mississippi - Part One

Script By: bkies
Historical fiction


LEAVING MISSISSIPPI PREFACE

The purpose of this story is twofold. First, to document the ugly scar of racism that pervaded the South by following the journey of a man into his past in search of redemption. Second, to pay homage to the folk song. These two subjects form a likely collaboration as folk songs evoke a common morality among us and Southern racism evokes the strongest feelings as to that which is wrong. The hypnotic sound of the acoustic guitar beginning a folk song seems to draw us in to this common morality. In fact, it is so strong, when Bob Dylan branched out to electric; nearly every city he played across the U.S. booed him (this after his appointment as the ‘Voice of His Generation’). And although electric music certainly serves its purpose (Like a Rolling Stone), it can never match the intimacy of the acoustic folk song.

Bob Dylan is a central character in this story as the alias Ben Deacon. The story uses the same approach as “Field of Dreams” (where writer Terence Mann supposedly is J.D. Salinger) and includes one other alias, Wallace Butler (Warren Buffett), a 34 year old investing wizard from Omaha, Nebraska. The story is fictional except for their characteristics. As far as the intertwining of folk music throughout the tale, it only seemed natural to use songs from the master himself.

The message is as simple as Oscar Hammerstein's line “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” Fortunately, it is now more of a historic tale as the South is fundamentally a different place than it was in 1964. Although ramifications remain from those turbulent times, the world has moved on. In the end, it is story about forgiveness on many different levels.

OVERVIEW

March 1964

Arlen Woods, a forty-year-old loner from Vicksburg, Mississippi now living in east Texas, has been using his inheritance money to place bets on the horses in Louisiana. Going to the races is one of the few things Jefferson residents know about Arlen. Also, that over the last few months they keep hearing the same music from his cabin: a singer with a guitar and harmonica; and a voice that sounds old.

The rumor is Arlen hit the big payday at last Saturday's race—a quarter-million dollars. Their attitude is he would not know what to do with one hundred dollars, let alone two hundred and fifty thousand. However, Arlen has definite plans for the money. He has been working on it for a while and only needed the big payoff to make it happen. He is going to form a group to cross the southern part of the United States and provide supplies (desks, chalkboards, textbooks, etc.) to as many under funded black schools as the money will allow.

As the story unfolds, we begin to see this is redemption for Arlen. Traveling across the South, he will revisit four memories. They are crucial to the story: from his parents teaching him to be prejudiced to a lynching involving the death of an innocent boy.

He will enlist the help of two unlikely characters: Ben Deacon, a folksinger on his way to becoming the voice of his generation, and Wallace Butler, a 34-year-old investing wizard from Omaha, Nebraska. These three men will join eight others from Jefferson to distribute the supplies over a two-and-a-half week period. The folks who have stereotyped Arlen as slow and dimwitted are surprised to learn he is both intelligent and articulate.


Submitted:Sep 14, 2013    Reads: 13    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Leaving Mississippi

MARCH 1964

INT: CONCERT HALL: NEW YORK CITY: NIGHT

The opening shot is of Ben Deacon from behind, a silhouette in the lights, as he begins to perform "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall".

EXT: ARLEN'S CABIN: TWILIGHT

The song continues from a record player on Arlen Wood's front porch. On a small, wooden table next to the record player is the winning ticket.

INT: ARLEN'S CABIN: TWILIGHT

Arlen is typing a letter. On a large table in the center of the room, there is a map of the southeastern United States. There are several pins in cities from Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and Arlen has circled four areas on the map. Letters of correspondence from various schools in these states lie around the map. In addition, there are newspaper articles about 34-year-old Wallace Butler, an investing wizard from Omaha. He has made quite a name for himself-his company now worth over eight million dollars. One of the articles has a quote underlined where Butler said if he had been born a black man, he would have not had the same opportunities and be where he is today. There is a Bible in the room and on the wall: a poster Arlen made of Gospel verses where Jesus speaks of forgiveness. Next to the poster is a picture of Amy Wallingford, the only woman Arlen ever loved.

INT: LOCAL DINER: JEFFERSON, TX: TWILIGHT

('A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' continues softly in the background)

Locals (FRANK, his younger brother TOMMY, and other diners) talk about Arlen.

FRANK

Rumor has it Arlen won two hundred and fifty thousand at the races last week.

DINER ONE

What would Arlen Woods do with that kind of money?

DINER TWO

Have you heard the music from his cabin lately? I keep hearin' this same singer, just a guitar and harmonica. And I tell ya, the fella can't sing a lick.

FRANK

It must be that scrawny kid from up north who's pro-nigger.

TOMMY

Frank, did it ever cross your mind he is pro-people?

FRANK

Shut up Tommy. You are too damn young to be in on this conversation. You know nothin' about the ways of the world. And I don't want to ever hear you mention niggers again as if they are people. You understand me.

DINER ONE

But why does Arlen listen to that stuff?

FRANK

You don't try to understand Arlen Woods. I think he's dangerous.

EXT: PIER ON LARGE TANK: TWILIGHT

Arlen is now fishing as the diner comments continue in the background. He has a contemplative look on his face. There are more remarks on how the old fool wouldn't know what to do with a hundred dollars, let alone a quarter-of-a-million.

We then hear from the song: "And what'll you do now my blue eyed son? And what'll you do now my darling young one?"

EXT: CABIN FRONT PORCH: TWILIGHT

Viewing the front of one of the speakers we hear, "I'm a goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin' " and other lines from the final verse as the camera slowly pans back.

INT: CONCERT HALL: NEW YORK CITY: NIGHT

On the line "Where black is the color, where none is the number", we see Ben Deacon performing again, but this time from the front. The camera slowly pans in and stops when the song reaches, "But I'll know my song well before I start singing".

INT: ARLEN'S CABIN: TWILIGHT

The song concludes and as we hear applause in the background, we see the envelope on the table. It is addressed to Columbia Records in New York City-Attention: Ben Deacon.

EXT: ARLEN'S CABIN: MORNING

Arlen drives off his property. There are views of him traveling along various highways until a sign reads 'OMAHA 10 Miles'.

INT: BUTLER PARTNERSHIP LTD OFFICES: OMAHA, NEBRASKA: MORNING

Arlen walks in and asks the receptionist if he can see Wallace Butler. She asks if he has an appointment. He says no, but that he has just made $250,000 dollars and has a few questions. The receptionist goes into Mr. Butler's office. She explains the circumstances and the request. Wallace says to let him enter.

ARLEN

Hello Mr. Butler, my name is Arlen Woods. (They shake hands)

WALLACE

Wallace Butler, and please just call me Wallace. May I call you Arlen?

ARLEN

Yes sir.

WALLACE

How can I help you Arlen?

ARLEN

Well, let me get straight to the point.

WALLACE

Please. (They sit down)

ARLEN

Last week I was lucky enough to hit the Pick 6 at a Louisiana horse track and win $250,000 dollars.

WALLACE

Oh my, that's quite a jackpot! (Chuckles)

ARLEN

Yes, and there is something I would like to do with the money. I grew up in the South, mostly Mississippi and Georgia, and to put it bluntly, I was extremely indifferent to the Negro people. I now understand how wrong my actions were and I would like to fund as many black schools as the money will allow.

WALLACE

I see. What do you mean by fund?

ARLEN

Form a group that travels across the South and provides supplies. Desks, chalkboards, books, you know, what most schools have ... and so ... I am here to make two requests. First, being in your position, would you match half my winnings to further this cause? Second, I am not sure about the logistics and would appreciate any advice you could give.

WALLACE

Well, first, Arlen, this is a noble undertaking. But what I do is to find profitable ways to invest money and not give it away. Why did you come here, why did you decide to ask me for help?

ARLEN

Did you not once say that if you had been born a black man, you would not have had the same opportunities and would not be where you are today?

WALLACE

I did.

ARLEN

(Pause)

That's why I'm here.

WALLACE

Give me some time to think this over. Would you be able to join my family for dinner tonight? My wife makes an excellent southern fried chicken.

ARLEN

That sounds good to me.

Wallace gives Arlen directions and says to be there around 6:00 PM. He lets his secretary know he will be leaving the office for the afternoon and calls his wife, Susan, to let her know he is coming home early.

INT: WallacE's HOME: AFTERNOON

Wallace tells Susan about meeting Arlen and the request he has made. He explains he is leaning towards helping him; that he cannot think of a more meaningful way to address this issue of inequality in the South than to provide decent school supplies. He mentions he once read that over the years, on average, where white schools spent $81.00 per student, it had been $21.00 per student in the black schools.

SUSAN

(Wearing a look of disbelief)

Do you honestly think he can pull this off? You know as well as I do if word gets out someone is trying to help black schools down there, shots will be fired. They will look at it as if they are supplying them with weapons. It has just not mattered, from Lincoln to Johnson; the South is going to erupt over any attempt to put Negroes on equal footing.

WALLACE

I suppose you're right.

SUSAN

So you are going to tell him it would simply be too dangerous. Why can't he just give the money to the schools and let them decide how to use it?

WALLACE

I was thinking if we used the cover of night.

SUSAN

I'm sorry. What did you say Wallace?

WALLACE

The cover of night.

SUSAN

No, before the cover of night. Did I hear you say 'we'?

There is silence.

SUSAN

Wallace, you are not going to Mississippi to deliver supplies to segregated schools. It is out of the question.

WALLACE

I don't want to argue about it right now.

SUSAN

There will be no arguing about it.

WALLACE

I invited Arlen over for dinner and I told him you would make your fried chicken. I hope you don't mind honey.

SUSAN

No, I don't mind.

WALLACE

I noticed Myer's has a sale on chicken.

SUSAN

And I suppose you want me to go to the store?

Wallace grins. As Susan walks out the door, he says to buy a nice desert. He then goes into his office and locates a map of the southeastern United States. He begins studying it.

EXT: Wallace'S HOME: NIGHT

Arlen arrives at the Butler's home and rings the doorbell.

INT: Wallace'S HOME: NIGHT

Wallace introduces Arlen to his family and they sit down for dinner. Afterward, the two of them convene to Wallace's office.

WALLACE

Arlen, have you considered how dangerous this trip will be?

ARLEN

No, I have not.

WALLACE

Being from the South, I'm sure you understand if word gets out someone is trying to level the playing field for black schools, there may be shots fired.

ARLEN

With all due respect, had Martin Luther King considered danger, there would have been no marches.

WALLACE

Well yes, that is true ... but did you consider just sending the money to the schools?

ARLEN

This is something I want to do. I want to see these one-room schools with benches and a table turned into a real classrooms. I want to see the look in these children's eyes when it becomes what it always should have been.

(There is a pause before Wallace continues)

WALLACE

Well, here is the most important advice I can give you. Deliver the supplies under the cover of darkness. It might eliminate most of the danger. You open a warehouse in a central location and bring all your supplies there. Then you have trucks transport the supplies to the schools at night. How many people will be helping you?

ARLEN

I'm thinking seven to eight.

WALLACE

Do you have a set number of schools?

ARLEN

I have information on 80 schools, but we can trim the list, if necessary.

WALLACE

Some of the people that help might have time constraints. I think 50 schools would be a two-week project. And the money would divide out better.

ARLEN

... I see.

WALLACE

... So you need five trucks with two people per truck, or ten people. Five schools a day should take a couple of weeks. How did you select the schools?

ARLEN

I determined some of the poorer ones. And even though desegregation might change this situation over the next few years, I think the schools I've selected will remain the same for years to come.

WALLACE

Look at the map I had out earlier today. I think a good location for the warehouse is Montgomery. By the way, I will be matching the funds.

(Arlen looks up from the map at Wallace as Wallace continues speaking)

WALLACE

I would suggest you do your best to select schools an equal distance from Montgomery.

ARLEN

I have general information on them but what might work best is to visit as we move east, go over what they need, and return that night.

WALLACE

Exactly, except for Georgia. We would have to handle it differently. Do you have to choose schools in Georgia?

ARLEN

(Responds quickly)

Yes.

WALLACE

Do you have any ideas on a name for the company?

ARLEN

Yes, I do.

WALLACE

Well, what is it?

ARLEN

Sherman 2.

WALLACE

I like it. We will put the name inside the warehouse though. (Chuckles) Do you have people lined up for the trip?

ARLEN

Not exactly. However, I know someone in Jefferson who will help me with that, and I wrote to someone in New York asking if he would join.

WALLACE

New York? ... Who would that be?

ARLEN

Ben Deacon

WALLACE

(Looking quizzical)

The folksinger from Minnesota?

ARLEN

Yes.

WALLACE

My God Arlen, are you trying to add kerosene to the fire here. Do you think he will respond?

ARLEN

I have no idea.

Wallace pauses and then continues.

WALLACE

Here's how I think we proceed. You go back to Texas and we'll communicate on the amount of supplies to order. You give me access to the money and I'll set up the warehouse and the trucks. You line up the folks who will assist and I will stock the supplies in Alabama. Your winnings and my donation will take care of the warehouse, the supplies, and the trucks. I will personally take care of the fuel, lodging, or whatever else comes up over the course of the trip. And I will do this all under one condition.

ARLEN

What's that?

WALLACE

I am one of the ten.

ARLEN

It would be an honor. I do not know how to thank you.

WALLACE

For starters, you can convince my wife I will be safe. (Chuckles) Let's try to be ready in a couple of weeks.

Arlen walks toward his car.

WALLACE

One last thing ... make sure some of your boys bring their guns. (Chuckles)

INT: COLUMBIA RECORDS STUDIO: NEW YORK CITY: 2:00 A.M.

Ben Deacon takes a break from recording. Someone walks in and hands him a letter. He opens it, reads the letter with no reaction, and slips it into his pocket. He goes back into the studio and continues recording.

INT: JEFFERSON NATIONAL BANK: MORNING

Arlen transfers the money to Wallace's account in Omaha.

INT: WALLACE'S HOME OFFICE: AFTERNOON

Wallace is on the phone in his home office discussing a possible warehouse. The size is perfect, the price is right, and when the Realtor in Montgomery says the location is isolated, Wallace grins. Wallace asks if it has good road access as far as supplies going in and out. When the agent replies yes, Wallace tells him he will take it.

EXT: ARLEN'S CABIN: AFTERNOON

Arlen sits on the front porch with Tommy. Tommy is one of the few residents in Jefferson who has visited with Arlen on different occasions. Arlen tells Tommy about the horse race winnings and his visit with Wallace Butler. He goes over their plans and asks if he will join them. Tommy voices concerns about Frank.

ARLEN

Maybe Frank needs to grow up.

TOMMY

Well that's fine and dandy but it has nothing to do with him beating me till I'm black and blue.

Arlen says there are ways to prevent that. He asks Tommy if he can help select six others from Jefferson. They would like to leave in a couple of weeks and it will probably take two and a half weeks to complete the trip.

TOMMY

Hey Arlen, everyone keeps talking about this music we hear from your cabin.

ARLEN

(Arlen brings out an album.)

It's Ben Deacon. Have you heard of him?

TOMMY

No, but Frank has. He said he's from up north and is for the Negroes.

ARLEN

Frank is an idiot and I tell you, this fellow is doing something new. And he speaks the truth.

TOMMY

But what about the singing ... what do you think of that?

ARLEN

Unique as Ray Charles ... and he hits all the right notes. By the way, I invited him to join us.

TOMMY

You are kidding me. Do you think he will?

ARLEN

Yes.

INT: Arlen'S CABIN: ONE WEEK LATER: AFTERNOON

We hear Arlen and Wallace on the phone discussing the number of supplies to order. They will overstock and sell whatever is not used. Wallace does some quick math and determines each school will be able to order a large number of books. Arlen goes over the locations he selected and the distances. He tells Wallace they have nine people committed to the project. Wallace advises they cannot rely on Ben Deacon to join; it is highly unlikely he will show up. He has no objection to him going, but Arlen needs to select an alternate.

INT: COLUMBIA RECORDS: NEW YORK CITY: AFTERNOON

Ben Deacon is talking with his manager, Allen Goodwin. He tells him he will be going down South for a couple of weeks. Allen explains that is something he cannot do anymore. Hiking from Duluth to the New York was one thing, but times are different now; he has commitments. As Ben walks out the door he replies, "How do you think I write these songs?"

INT: Wallace'S HOME: AFTERNOON

We see Wallace and Susan having a quiet argument. She is still insistent he cannot go. Wallace explains he could stay in Omaha making money, donating to charities, but would that be the same as going out there and doing something? Susan says, "You are really going to do this."

EXT: A TRAIN IN ARKANSAS: AFTERNOON

'SONG FOR WOODY' ENTERS IN BACKGROUND

A train rolls south through the countryside. In an empty boxcar with its sliding door open, Ben sits with a backpack by his side and holds his acoustic guitar.

(There are a few black stills of Woody Guthrie traveling and singing for the migrating Okies)

Ben looks out on a field where Negro workers are planting cotton under a punishing sun. He is singing, playing the guitar, writing on a pad.

INT: ARLEN'S CABIN: AFTERNOON: ONE WEEK LATER

Wallace calls Arlen and they decide it is time to proceed. Wallace says he will arrive in the morning by 11:00 AM. He suggests meeting at Arlen's with everyone present to go over the trip around noon.

EXT: ARLEN'S CABIN: MORNING

Wallace pulls up in front of the cabin in a rented Rambler Classic. The others begin to arrive and there are introductions.

INT: ARLEN'S CABIN: MORNING

They sit down in the cabin and Arlen and Wallace give an overview of the mission. When lodging comes up someone suggests camping at a state park. They all agree it would hold down on costs. They select one near Montgomery where one of the men camped before. On one or two excursions, it will be too far to drive back, so they will stay in hotels. They go over how many tents, cots, and sleeping bags they need. One of the men says he has a couple of Coleman stoves. They decide on the three vehicles they will use; one will be the Rambler Classic. Wallace emphasizes how important it is not to say a word about the trip. He strikes a fatherly pose as he explains it will be like crossing a war zone in certain areas. Wallace asks if there are any good anglers in the group. Everyone raises his hand. Wallace suggests they bring a few poles and that fish fry's will hold down on costs as well. They drive to the local sporting goods store.

INT: POTCHERNIK'S SPORTING GOODS: AFTERNOON

The group selects the items they need. Wallace tells them if anyone would like a new rod and reel, now is the time to get it; he is making the purchase. They check out and load up the Rambler. They decide to meet at 6:00 AM.

EXT: ARLEN'S CABIN: TWILIGHT

Arlen and Wallace visit on the front porch before Wallace returns to his hotel. They notice someone far down the road approaching. As he nears, Arlen sees the guitar case strapped around him.

ARLEN

I'll be damned ... it's Ben Deacon.

They introduce themselves on the front porch.

BEN

(After meeting Wallace)

I'm sure your expertise will prove invaluable on this trip.

(Ben turns to Arlen)

BEN

It's been a long road down and man I'm famished.

ARLEN

Let me make some dinner. (Walks inside)

Arlen also calls Joey Walker (the last person selected) and explains it will not be necessary for him to go. Joey says he would still like to be a part of the group and that they will be losing an excellent cook. Arlen asks Joey to hold and consults with Wallace. Wallace says it will be late when they return most nights and it would be nice to have supper ready.

WALLACE

What do you think Ben?

BEN

Never turn down a good cook.

WALLACE

Let's have him along.

Arlen tells Joey to be there by six in the morning.

EXT: ARLEN'S CABIN: MORNING

Everyone begins to arrive and Arlen serves tacos. They load the three vehicles and slowly drive off his property.

There is a time lapse of the cars driving along various highways.

EXT: ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE NEAR VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI: MORNING

Arlen and Wallace pull up to the first school.

INT: ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE NEAR VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI: MORNING

They walk into the school. It has two large tables, some benches, and a wood burning stove in the middle of the room. There is a makeshift office in the corner and they find the principal, MRS. WASHINGTON, working on schedules. Arlen introduces himself as the person who wrote concerning supplies. She expresses her gratitude and they go over the school's needs: the number of desks, how many globes, etc. Wallace says there will be a good amount of money to acquire new textbooks. Arlen explains they will deliver the supplies tomorrow but to avoid attention, they need to deliver them at night. Mrs. Washington says she understands and they agree on 8:00 PM.

There is a sequence of the other members visiting designated schools. They take down information from various teachers and principals.





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