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Local woman uncovers past about her grandfather, talks for documentary

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Posted: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 7:07 am

What started out as a quest for more information about her family and her past became a wild ride for Yvette Johnson the past year, and included an appearance in a documentary film.

Johnson, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, decided about a year ago to find out more about her grandfather who was murdered during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

She traveled to Greenwood, Miss., several times with a film crew with the goal of understanding what it was like there more than 40 years ago. Her grandfather, Booker Wright, owned a restaurant there called Booker’s Place, which was a non-segregated restaurant.

Wright became a sensation overnight in 1966. He appeared on a civil rights documentary that aired on prime time NBC. He was interviewed about his thoughts on race relations.

“He basically embodies the character of the ‘jolly Negro’ when the interview starts,” Johnson said. “Then he got serious and said this is how white people expected him to act. The whites felt betrayed and his employment (of 20 years) ended right after the documentary aired.”

The interview attracted attention from all over and created tension within the Greenwood community.

Seven years after the documentary aired, a white couple entered his restaurant and they were harassed by another patron. Wright defended the white couple and kicked the man out. Minutes later Wright was shot by Lloyd Clark and he died in the hospital three days later.

“He died protecting the white couple,” Johnson said.

She began her research in 2007. Over the years she has interviewed her own family members as well as those of her grandfather’s murderer. Her interview will appear in the film, “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story.”

“I wanted to understand my family history and learn more about my African-American heritage,” Johnson said. “The civil rights movement is a lot more recent than people realize. It wasn’t that long ago.”

Johnson has two sons, ages 5 and 7, that she home-schools. She hasn’t told them much about her grandfather, but she knows that time is coming.

“They know he did something special and that he was murdered,” she said. “I think sometimes we don’t realize the gifts that our families have given us. I think that my overall goal is that people can talk with less anger and volatility about these subjects.”

Johnson is in the process of writing a book about her experiences while researching and making the documentary, which she hopes to release next year.

To find out more about “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story,” visit www.tribecafilm.com/tribecafilm/booker_s_place__a_mississippi_story-film39394.html.

To follow Johnson’s blog, go to www.bookerwright.com.

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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