Charles Brown, Jr.’s family, the Cobbs, were banished from Pierce City, Missouri in 1901. In December 2007, Charles updated Independent Lens on the issues presented about his family in BANISHED.
What has your family been up to since filming ended?
The making of BANISHED has stimulated a lot of interest in Pierce City and what happened to my family in 1901. I have attended several screenings at film festivals around the country. A lot of people express horror and outrage. Some speak of disgust. Some even ask me if Pierce City satisfied my monetary request. No one has defended Pierce City and tried to justify the actions of the Pierce City residents and their neighbors’ actions in 1901.
My family, as American citizens in 2007, does not understand why no one in our government on the local, state or national levels has stepped up to the plate to try to address the things that happened to our family and the rest of the African Americans living in Pierce City in 1901. By this not happening, the chain of custody has not been addressed.
My hope is that someone steps up to the plate and rectifies this wrong. I was trying to work through all of this on a small scale by asking them to reimburse our family $2,600, our expenses incurred to move my great-grandfather. I feel they missed a great opportunity to move in the right direction. It was not about the money. We were demanding respect in the name of our family, asking Pierce City to bring this dark secret from their past out in the open, address it and work through it.
Please tell us about your family history, particularly as it relates to your story presented in BANISHED.
I have been researching my family for six years. I found out that my father’s mother was one of nine children born to James and Arminta Cobb in Tennessee. They migrated to Pierce City, Missouri and the family collectively purchased an eight-room house and contributed to the growth of Pierce City. Two of the males worked as Pullman Porters on the railroad. James Cobb, Sr. died of dropsy in 1898. He was the only one I could not find in the 1900 Census.
My brother, James Brown, had heard from our father about some kind of an incident that happened to the family while they were in Pierce City. He didn’t know the particulars so my brother went to Pierce City looking for any evidence to indicate that our family was involved in a riot of some sort. He found, through the managing editor of a local newspaper, an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch dated August 25, 1901. This article describes what happened to the African Americans living in Pierce City during that time. There were interviews with my family and also a picture showing them at a relative’s two-room home in Springfield, Missouri. There were over 200 bullet holes in the Cobb residence.
I found out James Cobb, Sr. was buried in the Pierce City cemetery. After the incident, no one in the family was allowed to visit his grave to place a wreath on his grave or just to visit with his grave. The house was not even an issue. If you weren’t allowed in the town, how could you stay current with your payments? Our home was sold for non-payment quickly after the incident. It was stated in the records that the Cobb home was sold for non-payment.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your experiences making the film?
The incident mentioned in BANISHED shows glaring problems with our system. The Cobb property, as well as the property of every other person of color who owned property in Pierce City, was stolen through adverse possession. The government did not protect the African American citizens of Pierce City on that day in 1901 and did not protect the chain of custody.
I am upset because the town has chosen not to openly admit wrongdoing by their ancestors. The town has been collecting taxes on our property since 1902. How can Pierce City say they bear no responsibility? I am hurt, confused and outraged. The rest of my family feels the same way I do.