By Scott Foundas
The more things change, the more they stay the same for disenfranchised African- Americans in the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida. At least that's the argument persuasively, if haphazardly, put forth by director Jeremy Dean's documentary Dare Not Walk Alone, which casts one eye back to the city's not-insignificant role in the 1960s civil-rights movement while keeping the other fixed on the communities of local blacks still living in virtual third-world poverty. Inelegantly made and sometimes awkward in its transitions between the two eras, Dean's film nonetheless packs a punch, thanks to vivid archival footage from this lesser-known (compared to Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham) hotbed of Southern racial unrest, and also to its clear-eyed look at the adversaries of Martin Luther King Jr.'s utopian "dream." Interviewed in 2005, octogenarian motel owner James Brock (whose Monson Motor Lodge became a locus of pro- and anti-segregation demonstrations) refers to his old adversary as "a fancy manipulator" and shows little contrition for having once poured acid into a swimming pool filled with black youths. Meanwhile, Dean notes the lack of so much as a single black officer in St. Augustine's present-day police and fire departments. Serendipitously arriving in theaters just as the nation's first major-party African-American presidential contender has the Oval Office in his sights, Dare Not Walk Alone reminds us that for far too many Americans of color, "free at last" has meant trading one sociological prison for another.