The Struggle & Hope

The rise and fall of Oklahoma’s post–Civil War all-black towns — and the people trying to safeguard the future of those that remain.

man standing next to welcome to Taft, OK sign
America ReFramed
Premiere Date
February 19, 2019
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Series and Special Projects
filmmaker Kari Barber

Kari Barber

A journalist-turned-documentary filmmaker from Oklahoma. Struggle & Hope is her first feature-length documentary as a director. Previously she worked as a researcher and reporter on the Frontline documentaries Flying Cheaper and Lost in Detention. Kari spent many years as a freelance journalist in Southeast Asia and West Africa before Show more returning to the U.S. to produce this film about her home state. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Marie Claire magazine and by dozens of newspapers and television and radio broadcasters. Kari received an MFA from American University in Washington, D.C. and now teaches at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Show less

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The Film

The prairies of Oklahoma were once dotted with some 60 thriving all-black towns, founded by freed African Americans turned homesteading pioneers in the wake of the Civil War. Interweaving the stories of three 21st-century inhabitants, the documentary Struggle & Hope charts these towns’ dramatic rise and slow disappearance.

Spencer Nero, a recent college grad and rodeo cowboy, has come home to raise cattle on the land his father and grandfather ranched. Thirtysomething councilwoman Keisha Currin is fighting to save her tiny community — sinking under the weight of a $30,000 water bill — from bankruptcy and annexation. And Harold Aldridge Jr., a grieving retired college professor and blues musician, finds himself struggling to write a history of Oklahoma that finally acknowledges the all-black towns’ existence and impact. Riveting archival footage of the towns’ vibrant cultural and economic past — a past of local universities, newspapers, and manufacturing plants, of oil barons, cowboys, and businesspeople — is juxtaposed with the evidence of their shrinking footprints to “just a spot on the road,” as Harold puts it. And yet, in the stories of these remaining residents, we witness heroic efforts to safeguard the communities’ independence, character, and even hopes for a better future.