July 1865. Over 4 million slaves have been freed. Forced to roam the antebellum countryside, many of them are ill prepared and unable to cope with the realities of their newfound freedom. This documentary examines a little known aspect of American history, when newly freed slaves throughout the South formed “benevolent societies” to respond to abject hunger, illness and the fear of a pauper’s grave.

The documentary sets the stage in rural Alabama, prior to Emancipation, and traces the development, struggles, contributions and gradual loss of tradition of one of the last remaining African American benevolent societies, known as “The Fair Hope Benevolent Society” in Uniontown, Alabama.

Through gripping human stories of some of the last surviving society members and interviews with historians and local residents, the film provides an unprecedented look at the complex and morally ambiguous world of Fair Hope juxtaposed against the worldly pleasures of what has become known as the annual “Foot Wash” celebration.

The Contradictions of Fair Hope Study Guide is available upon request.

Photo credit: Lisa Berg