Post Classifieds

Documentary sheds light on forgotten community

By Clay Paul Dyess
On February 25, 2011

On Feb. 21, the Converging Literacies Center (CLiC) and the Department of Literature and Languages screened the world premier of the documentary film "The Other Side of the Track".

It is the first documentary ever created under the direction of Texas A&M University-Commerce. The documentary was directed by Luca Morazzano, a graduate assistant in the department of literature and languages, and focused on the Norris Community, which is located in Commerce.

Once a segregated area of the city set aside for African-American residents, the documentary emphasized the struggles of the African American community at Norris using interviews with residents of Norris, and images and video of the community's present and past states.

The documentary involved assistance by many on the university faculty, including Morazzano, Dr. Donna Dunbar-Odom, Dr. Shannon Carter and former university archivist Dr. James Conrad.

"This represents the best that the university has to offer," Conrad said. "African-Americans have been part of the Commerce community, but nobody has taken the time to tell their story."

Of note was the participation of Norris Community leaders Opal Pannell, Billy Reed and Harry Turner. After the showing, all three were available for a question and answer session.


Significant historical events were discussed in the documentary and during the following Q&A. These focused on the struggles of past racism and segregation, poverty, humorous anecdotes from times gone by and optimism for the future.


Opal Pannell, a longtime resident of the community, shared an anecdote from her past that had many in attendance chuckling. She retold the story of an African-American employee who walked out of a cafeteria on Monroe Street because of low wages in 1964.

"Community" was a term that came up often during the event, with the role of churches and church members said to be very significant.

"The churches have been very important to the Norris Community," Conrad said.


It could appear that some members of the Norris Community think its existence emphasizes past wounds. Instead, the community seems to be optimistic about a Commerce in which places such as the Norris Community are a history lesson in a forgotten era.

"Let's go forward," Pannell said.


Another showing of the documentary is being planned for the Commerce City Hall. Copies are not yet available on DVD, though a rough edit of the film is available at, along with a summary of the documentary and notes on the film.

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