Local film director's latest project tells the story of Walter Perry, 'Mr. Emancipation'
WINDSOR, ONT. -- A local film director’s latest documentary centres around one Windsor man who brought the community together when racial tensions were high on both sides of the border.
Mister Emancipation: The Walter Perry Story, is 20 years in the making.
“The film is about my great uncle Walter Perry who had the longest Black celebration in Canada. Actually, it was North America,” said film director Preston Chase.
For 30 years, Perry would organize a three-day festival in the summer to commemorate the freeing of enslaved people. In 1833 Britain approved the Slavery Abolition Act which took effect in 1834.
“Everyone flocked to it, and you can just see it in the footage as well,” Chase said. “It was unbelievable.”
Chase said many influential figures would make the trip to Windsor to take part in the celebrations.
“Eleanor Rosevelt, Harry Truman, a young Martin Luther King came,” he said.
Jim Allen of the Northstar Cultural Community Centre went through the archives to help with the project.
“He had connections with people and dignitaries from across the border and Canada,” he said of Perry.
Allen said Perry’s story is an important one to tell.
“We wanted to tell his story as it happened by the people that lived it,” he said.
In the midst of racial tension, Chase said all differences were put aside once a year and black culture was celebrated.
“He doubled the population of Windsor at the time,” he said. “The population of Windsor at the time was 100,000 and he doubled it.”
The event ran from 1936 until 1967 when it was cancelled due to the Detroit riots.
Perry died that same year.
“He turned this into a very prosperous community, particularly for the youth,” Allen said.
The film is available online and will be part of the Detroit Trinity Film Festival.
“That’s what my uncle wanted to bring is different people together,” Chase said.