EDITORIAL: An Important Part of History


We in the news business chronicle instant history. Documentary film makers step back and examine history through the lens of time. Both are valuable so people have a perspective of where we are, and how did we get here.

Chris Marshall of Clinton has provided the nation with an valuable example of the latter. The documentary film on which he worked, “Liberty and Slavery,” examines how the Founding Fathers worked and in some cases sacrificed for freedom for people like them, while at the same time holding people of color in bondage.

We think of slavery as a thing of the past, and in some ways it is; we don’t see people of color under servitude picking cotton anymore. However, the sex trade and forced labor are the modern versions of slavery - an issue that deeply divided the United States of America.

Our Presbyterian College Intern Jackson Dean brought Marshall’s story to our readers on Sept. 12. The film maker, Chris Marshall, is a Clinton High School graduate, thus our interest in his work. The film received two Emmy awards at the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter Awards.

Producer Troy Thomas and Marshall as the Emmy-winning editor and director of photography brought these pages of history to life. It took nearly four years to produce. Debuting in 2016 in various film festivals, notably the Virginia Film Festival, “Liberty and Slavery” can now be viewed on Amazon Prime Video or purchased from the film’s website. 

Marshall told Dean, in an interview, “I think for me, one of the interesting things about the story with the founders … to understand the dilemma they have, you have to realize that in that time period, there wasn’t anybody pushing for integration. It wasn’t until the ‘60’s that we got to integration, but there weren’t efforts to stop slavery because people of that time thought slavery was a necessary evil. ... The founders stated it was a necessary evil they wanted to end but they didn’t know how to … their solution across the board was never integration. They said we can free slaves but once we free them we don’t know where they should go. They couldn’t conceive of living in an integrated  society … it made the issue a whole lot more difficult than just ‘ending slavery.’ Society had not yet mentally developed ways to solve that problem. So it is a little bit unfair to put our own moral system back on them because we don’t look at the world the same way they did back then, but that’s just what we discovered. That’s just the history and we tried to look at it from a neutral standpoint. We wanted to judge these men not just on their successes or failures, but we wanted to present their whole story and give people a better understanding of their dilemma … 

“It is pretty amazing how many echoes of their story are still with us today.”

Marshall said his goal was to look at the Founding Fathers through a “historical lens.”

He said, “I would say that we didn’t want too much stuff about contemporary America. The main goal was really looking at the founders through this historical lens. At the end of the film, we bring the message about how to judge these men, these leaders, including contemporary leaders … you’re never going to find leaders in any circumstance that are perfect, and that’s just part of humanity that there’s never a 100 percent perfect leader. 

“That doesn’t mean we should excuse the bad things they’ve done, but you have to judge people with a global perspective on their lives.”

South Carolina plays a role, as scenes were filmed at the Drayton Hall plantation near Charleston and in Gaffney for Revolutionary War re-enactments.

Recognizing our connection here to the Revolutionary War, through Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, it seems only fitting that “a son of Clinton, South Carolina” would undertake such a project, and be successful at it. Much later, the deadliest war in the nation’s history would be fought over the issue of slavery; and while the devastation of that war generally by-passed Clinton, its legacy and debate lives on today in our nation’s race relations. 

But long before that, at the birth of our nation, owning another person was an issue of personal choice and political expedience, as this “historic lens” shows. Excellent work, Chris.


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