“The family is a person’s first stage of community.” This is the message from Lyle Gibson that resonates in the new documentary film on the history of his multiracial (African-American, American Indian and white) family. Metropolitan Community College will host the public premiere of “Black Tie White Tie” with two free screenings Feb. 23 on the MCC-Penn Valley campus.
Gibson, a history instructor at MCC-Penn Valley, is the author of “Black Tie White Tie: Chronicle of an American Family, 1739-1940” and co-producer of the film based on his book. Both works reinforce the idea that each person has a story within the American story.
Gibson grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and is a 1984 graduate of F.L. Schlagle High School.
“Black Tie White Tie” draws on oral histories, public documents and material culture (i.e., physical evidence of a culture). Oral histories, substantiated by primary sources such as public documents, place Elijah Reed, the story’s central character, into historical context. Reed was Gibson’s great-great-great grandfather.
“It’s amazing. It has been a journey, but a truly unbelievable journey,” Gibson says. “I have learned so much about my family, history and how it all connects, even on the global level.”
As he walks through his ancestral past, Gibson explores a diffusion of cultures: American Indians, African slaves and European indentured servants. “Black Tie White Tie” traces the evolution of 10 generations of a black family from slavery to freedom, through tragedies and triumphs. This story provides a fresh insight into the black family in America.
“The true history of any nation begins with its people,” Gibson says, “and America is no exception.”
(Click here to watch a trailer for “Black Tie White Tie,” a Cosmic Cowboy Studio and Taishi Studios production in association with Pine Hills Productions.)
“Black Tie White Tie” the book was first released in 2003, with a revision published in 2006. Gibson says he became interested in researching his family when as a young man he served in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Greece. His research developed in earnest while he was in graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City from 1997-1999. The research turned into a book, then turned into a documentary thanks to Gibson’s connection to filmmaker Jermaine Thomas.
Thomas, a former history student of Gibson’s at MCC-Penn Valley, had stopped by for a visit in the fall of 2010. He would become the director of the “Black Tie White Tie” documentary. Thomas, who also studied at Avila College, introduced Gibson to retired Avila professor Dr. Benjamin Meade. Meade, an award-winning filmmaker of short films and features, signed on as executive producer of the project.
When the three started production five years ago, they ran into some budget obstacles. After an online fundraising campaign, work resumed in 2014. They completed the 50-minute film in January.
Gibson has been an MCC faculty member for 12 years, teaching U.S. history and African-American history at MCC-Penn Valley. He was a Fulbright Scholar and studied West African culture in Senegal during the summer of 1999. He continues to incorporate aspects of his studies there into his lectures today.
“Black Tie White Tie” will be shown on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. in the Little Theater (Room 101) of the Science & Technology Building on the MCC-Penn Valley campus, 3201 Southwest Trafficway. The screenings, which will include a Q&A after the film with Lyle Gibson and director Jermaine Thomas, are free and open to the public.