An excellent, but under-seen film made in 1984 by Bill Duke called The Killing Floor will screen at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York on September 26th.
Produced for American Playhouse and a prize-winner at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival, this well-researched film finds drama in the Great Migration of African Americans to the industrial north. Weaving together a dramatic narrative with both real and fabricated newsreel footage, Duke’s film manages to be engaging while sticking close to the historical details of a complicated and tense part of American history. The scenes depicting the Chicago Race Riots are particularly affecting.
The Killing Floor touches on many of the same topics and events as our upcoming documentary film, The Rosenwald Schools. Part of the film takes place in the historic Wabash Avenue YMCA, an important community center for new African American arrivals in Chicago that was funded by Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald also helped address overcrowding in the wake of rapid population growth in the city’s “Black Belt” following the Great Migration. Segregation limited African American’s housing choices to this section of the city, but Rosenwald’s Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments provided hundreds of modern and well-equipped apartments. We hope to use some of the footage from Duke’s film in The Rosenwald Schools as an illustration of the milieu.