A new documentary film, “Silver Dollar Road,” delves into the compelling story of the Reels family and their enduring battle for land ownership.
Directed and written by Raoul Peck, Silver Dollar Road is scheduled for release in theaters on October 13, 2023, with global streaming on Prime Video following on October 20, 2023.
Based on a ProPublica article, The riveting narrative of the Reels family unfolds, tracing their journey from emancipation to the present day. The family, led by the revered matriarch known as “Mamie,” has a deep-rooted connection to a 65-acre parcel of land nestled along the coastal stretches of North Carolina’s Silver Dollar Road.
Dating back to the days following emancipation, the Reels family dedicated themselves to farming, fishing, and building a sustainable life on this cherished land. Their story is emblematic of an era when African Americans proudly owned a staggering 15 million acres in the South during the vibrant Reconstruction period.
In the early 1900s, the Reels family achieved a remarkable feat by establishing the county’s only beach that welcomed Black families and hosting vibrant events in a nearby dance hall. However, their world was shattered when Mamie and her brothers, Melvin and Licurtis, made a startling discovery. It was revealed that, legally, their beloved land belonged to an unscrupulous developer. This complicated ownership issue originated in the 1970s when Mitchell, Mamie, Melvin, and Licurtis’ grandfather, passed away without leaving a will. His last wish was for his children to protect the land as a family treasure. However, the farm became entangled in the intricate legal web of “heirs’ property,” where land is passed down without a will, with each child inheriting an interest similar to holding shares in a company.
Despite the perceived strength of “heirs’ property,” the Reels family’s ownership became precarious. Owners of such ancestral holdings often face a range of legal challenges, from forced sales to hefty tax burdens. In the late 1970s, the family’s estranged uncle exploited the complexities of heirs’ property laws, selling the land to a white real estate developer without the family’s consent. Melvin and Licurtis, determined to reclaim their rightful inheritance, adamantly refused to surrender the property. Their unwavering stance led to a wrongful conviction for civil contempt in 2011, resulting in the harshest sentence ever issued for such an offense in North Carolina—eight long years behind bars.
Finally released in 2019, Mamie, Melvin, and Licurtis remain steadfast in their tireless struggle to regain the land that was unjustly taken from their family. This documentary sheds light on the complex issues surrounding land ownership in the African American community and the enduring resilience of a family fighting to reclaim their ancestral heritage.
Check out the trailer for ‘Silver Dollar Road’, produced by Rémi Grellety, Blair Foster, Hébert Peck, and Raoul Peck, below.