In commemoration of Black History Month, a new, locally produced documentary about a Black New Jersey veteran sentenced to death in a Georgia town notorious for lynching will be screened on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Boston Atheneæum, 10 ½ Beacon St.
The film entitled “Fair Game: Surviving A 1960 Georgia Lynching,” directed by Boston-based filmmaker Clennon L. King, tells the story of James Fair Jr. who, in 1960, was arrested, jailed, tried, convicted and sentenced to Georgia’s electric chair in less than three days for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.
“These were the kinds of stories I grew up hearing as a native Southerner,” said the Roxbury-based filmmaker, who researched, wrote and edited the project in Boston. “And to think this happened while JFK was making a White House run.”
An award-winning Boston-based journalist and filmmaker, King dedicated the documentary to the 24 known Black men who were lynched in Early County, Ga., between 1881 and 1941, and to his father, Georgia’s legendary civil rights attorney C.B. King, who tried to prevent Fair from becoming the 25thvictim.
In the mid-1940s, the family of James Fair, Jr. joined the second wave of the Great Migration, leaving Tampa, Fla., and resettling in Bayonne, N.J., where he grew up. In May 1960, the 24-year-old Navy vet joined a friend from nearby Newark on a road trip home to Blakely, Ga. Their arrival, however, in Early County could not have been more ill-timed. It coincided with the alleged rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, prompting local authorities to finger Fair as the fall guy. Less than three days later, a local judge sentenced him to Georgia’s electric chair, prompting Fair’s mother, Alice, to mount an 18-month campaign that captured national headlines to save the life of her son.
The film features multiple national luminaries, including the presidential advisor Vernon Jordan, who was a young law clerk on the case, and White House cabinet secretary Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, who hailed from the town where the case unfolded. Also featured is former Blakely chief of police, Charles Middleton, who offers an unvarnished and candid look into his own family’s suggested role in that lynching that took place in Early County.
One small irony noted by the film is that Early County, Ga., is the ancestral home of Grammy award-winners Cissy and Whitney Houston, and cousin Dionne Warwick, whose family, like Fair’s own, migrated north, and resettled in the same part of New Jersey.
“Fair Game” marks King’s second documentary. His first, the award-winning “Passage at St. Augustine: The 1964 Black Lives Matter Movement That Transformed America,” won the Henry Hampton Award of Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking at the 2015 Roxbury International Film Festival.