How would you handle the trauma of losing a loved one? For Movita Johnson-Harrell, who couldn’t save her son, it’s now her life's mission to save others.
Known as "Hangtown," Placerville, CA boasts a noose as its city’s icon. When activists challenge the emblem, new truths about California’s history of racial injustice are revealed.
Stuart Harmon is an award-winning filmmaker who’s produced for the BBC, PBS, VICE, The New York Times, and others. His first documentary The Money Stone won several awards and was broadcast on BBC Africa, RT, and The Africa Channel. He’s also a Logan Nonfiction Fellow and a finalist for several awards for his work with The Intercept.
Lyntoria Newton is a documentary filmmaker and producer based in Chicago. She is currently producing Hangtown with director Stuart Harmon and co-producing the forthcoming film Life After with Reid Davenport and Multitude Films. Lyntoria holds an M.F.A. in documentary film and video from Stanford University.
Lynchings in America have typically been associated with the Jim Crow South, but their use in instilling terror in communities of color was happening long before in California. Now, in California's historic Gold Rush country, a reckoning is underway in a town defined by a symbol enshrined in the city seal—the noose. Legend has it that Placerville, one of the most prominent mining towns during California’s Gold Rush, got its nickname “Hangtown” in 1849 when three foreign prospectors were lynched by white vigilantes after being accused of murder. In 2020, the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd spark a group of diverse activists, led by 26-year-old Lizzie Dubose, who realize their fight lies with the symbol hanging in their town’s front yard. To them, the noose isn’t a kitschy celebration of the past, but a racist symbol of white supremacy used to threaten people of color. They take to the streets, pressuring the City Council to remove the noose and dispose of the town’s nickname. The fight in Placerville inspires Dawn Basciano, a 49-year-old descendent of Black pioneers, to investigate what happened to her family’s land after it was taken by the state. The activists’ efforts are quickly met with backlash from the conservative community led by “Hangman’s Tree Saloon” owner Sue Taylor. The battle in California’s Gold Rush country becomes a microcosm of modern America, revealing the difficulties communities of color face when challenging historical narratives.