Year: 1990

aka: "Once Upon a Vision: The Story of Berea, 1854-1904"


Directed and Produced by: Terry Carter

Edited by: Beate Glatved DeCoste

Commissioned by: The Ashland Oil Foundation

Genre: Documentary

Plot Summary: A 60-minute historical documentary featuring Alex Haley as host-narrator, the program tells the unique story of an interracial community and college founded by abolitionists in the 19th Century South, in the midst of slavery, with the objective of achieving interracial harmony and social justice.

The program opens with Alex Haley on-camera, emerging from the book-lined archival stacks at the Berea College library, as our host and storyteller. Looking through photo albums and leafing through old letters, newspapers and books, Haley speaks directly into the camera, explaining to us how he first came to be interested in the Berea experience, and recalling some of the protagonists and key events which contributed to the successful establishment and half-century continuation of a bi-racial, co-educational school for poor Blacks and poor Whites, in the segregated South-- a unique occurrence in American history.

Over a montage of early photographs, lithographs, daguerreotypes, portraits, letters and newspaper clippings, Haley relates the 50-year story of Berea. Interspersed in the continuity of Haley's narration, the voices and images of professional actors bring the protagonists "to life", in a series of dramatic vignettes. Excerpts of their speeches, sermons and writings serve to illustrate "first hand" the dynamic ideas, debates and conflicts of the time.

As the program ends, Mr. Haley, on camera, comments on the passing of the golden era that was Berea, a life raft of social equality in the midst of a turbulent sea of oppression. Haley laments that such a noble "experiment" and such a commitment to humanity, and to the potential of people of color and of the poor, as was manifest in the vision of John Gregg Fee, has seen few counterparts in the American experience, even in today's world ...

Once Upon A Vision has become part of the Kentucky secondary-school American History curriculum. Hosted and narrated by historian and author Alex Haley.

Notes: The script for this documentary was written by Richard Sears, Professor of English at Berea College in Kentucky. Richard Sears is the author of several books and articles dealing with the unique history of Berea, including the recent Kentucky Abolitionists in the Midst of Slavery, A Utopian Experiment in Kentucky: Integration and Social Equality at Berea, 1866-1904 and a well-known work of local history, Madison County: 200 Years in Retrospect.

Alex Haley who helped on this documentary, had an immense effect on the black power movement in the United States with The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, which he produced in 1965. He also was the author of Roots.