‘Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power’ Review: A Movement That Changed America

By Devika Girish
Published: Dec. 1, 2022
Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power
NYT Critic’s Pick
Directed by Geeta Gandbhir, Sam Pollard
Documentary Time: 1h 30m
Photo credit: Credit: Greenwich Entertainment

With arresting interviews and archival footage, this documentary looks back at a 1960s voting-rights campaign in Alabama that gave rise to a national movement for Black power.

“Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power” opens with interviews with men and women who grew up in the titular Alabama county in the 1960s. The Black interviewees, children of sharecroppers, recall an atmosphere of poverty, racism and bloody violence; their white counterparts, members of landowning families, remember a “peaceful, almost idyllic place.”

These discrepant versions of life in Lowndes set the stage for Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir’s documentary, which retraces the story of how one of the most inequitable, fiercely segregated counties in America gave rise to a national movement for Black power. In 1965, Lowndes had no registered Black voters, despite its population being 80 percent Black. The directors follow the ripples of change that started when a local man, John Hulett, began organizing Black voters, culminating in the founding of a new party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, with an influential symbol: the black panther.

The film teases out one of the many microhistories in the Civil Rights movement. Notably, Lowndes did not see the sustained involvement of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; instead, its grass-roots struggle drew the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, led by Stokely Carmichael, which took a more local — and more radical — approach.

Yet the power of the collective, more so than any individuals, is the focus here. The film is anchored with the arresting faces of Lowndes locals and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizers, who recall a range of stirring details — from setting up camp in a house with no running water to internal debates over the term “Black power.” The archival footage, too, mixes protest images and quotidian scenes, illustrating the simple acts of community that underlie any political movement.


2023 Screening of Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power
The screening of the Lowndes County film will take place on Feb 3, 2023 at 7:00pm at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library- 901 G St NW, Washington, DC 20001

Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.
NYT Critic’s Pick: Find Tickets
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Directors: Geeta Gandbhir, Sam Pollard
Writer: Dema Paxton Fofang
Stars: Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King
Running Time: 1h 30m
Genre: Documentary

Movie data powered by IMDb.com: A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 2, 2022, Section C, Page 8 of the New York edition with the headline: Lowndes County And the Road To Black Power. Order Reprints