SACRAMENTO —Doug Harris Sr. made good on a promise when he was given an ultimatum from his mom to make a documentary of how Assemblyman Byron Rumford Sr. was able to create and pass a bill to eliminate unfair housing practices in California.
In nearly three years, Harris, a filmmaker, researched, produced, and directed the historical piece, “Fair Legislation: The Byron Rumford Story.” The documentary will air on Sacramento’s KVIE at 7:00 p.m., on Feb. 17.
Harris’ mother, Gloria Nelson, insisted that her son make the documentary because the legislation, Assembly Bill 1240, allowed her to purchase a home in North Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“This documentary film was done for my Mom,” Harris told The OBSERVER. “Years ago, she told me it was important to do this story because she wouldn’t be able to buy her home in North Berkeley if it had not been for Byron Rumford’s Fair Housing Act. She basically instructed me to do this,” he added.
Harris has produced a meticulous, high-quality documentary that outlines the life and career of one of the most influential Black Americans in California politics. Rumford also engineered the passage of the 1959 Fair Employment Practices Act, which outlawed employment discrimination.
“Fair Legislation,” within 60 minutes, is told through cassette tapes, archival footage, and newspaper clippings with some of the resources provided by the University of California Berkeley. Harris’ 18-year-old son, Doug Harris Jr., served as the cinematographer for the production.
What makes this documentary significant is how Harris Sr. was able to construct it without the use of a traditional narrator and to stay on point in presenting the subject matter. Harris elected to use interviews of people who knew Rumford best and the political work he accomplished. The viewers will not hear any obscured voices reading a script for “Fair legislation.”
“If you look at a majority of my films you will see that it’s my style and my brand,” Harris said. “The documentary is told by the people. I noticed that when we were young the history documentaries where narrated-driven. Well, they can’t show them anymore because they were lying to us. Through my process, you get it right from the person working with and for Rumford.”
“Fair Legislation” features interviews of Dotson Wilson (Chief Clerk of the California Assembly), Belva Davis (Television News Journalists and Author), Elihu Harris (former State Assemblyman), James Sweeney (former Berkeley City Councilman), Dr. Marion Woods (California Department of Employment), and Diane Watson (former California State Senator and U.S. Congresswoman).
Additionally, Dr. William H. Lee (co-founder of The OBSERVER), John Jervis (Sacramento’s KCRA 3 Political Reporter), Bettina Aptheker (Free Movement Organizer), David Oppenheimer (UC Berkeley Law Professor), William B. Rumford Jr. (son of Byron Rumford), Elsie Rumford (daughter of Byron Rumford), and more participated in the project.
“While I am interviewing different people I am also directing them,” Harris said. “The way that I do documentaries to flow seamlessly I must be literally engulfed in the story. One day, when I settle down in production I would like to teach this to our young people on how to do it right.”
For Black History Month in February, Fair Legislation will premiere at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 9, at the Guild Theater in Oak Park, hosted by the California Legislative Black Caucus Institute. The sponsors are KVIE, the Center For Energy and Renewable Technologies, and SacObserver.com.
“Bryon Rumford was a man of equal stature, to other legislators, who could be able speak his mind,” Elihu Harris said in the documentary. “Quite frankly, (Rumford) could take on challenging issues of racial injustices.”
To RSVP for the premiere at the Guild Theater, call (916) 340-2609. The premiere is free, but with limited seating. The Guild Theater is located at 2828 35th Street.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer