The Language You Cry In (1998)

About the Film

At the request of the distributor, this film's stream has been canceled. The complete film is available on DVD from California Newsreel.

The Language You Cry In tells an amazing scholarly detective story reaching across hundreds of years and thousands of miles, from 18th century Sierra Leone to the Gullah people of present-day Georgia. It shows how African Americans have retained powerful links to their African past despite the horrors of the Middle Passage and the long years of slavery and segregation. The film dramatically demonstrates the contribution of contemporary scholarship to restoring what narrator Vertamae Grosvenor calls the “non-history” imposed on African Americans: “This is a story of memory, how the memory of a family was pieced together through a song with the powers to connect those who sing it with their roots, their silent history.” The story begins in the early 1930s with Lorenzo Turner, an African American linguist who cataloged more than 3,000 names and words of African origin among the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Turner also made the spectacular discovery that some Gullahs could recite texts in African languages handed down for generations. Among these linguistic gems, Turner’s widow recalls, he especially cherished a five-line song that he learned from Amelia Dawley, a woman from a remote Georgia fishing village. Although Amelia did not know which language the song was in, a Sierra Leonean graduate student in the United States recognized it as Mende, his native tongue. Amelia’s song is almost certainly the longest text in an African language known to have been preserved by a black family in the United States.

The complete film is available on high quality DVD from California Newsreel.


For licensing, film rights and permissions, contact Alvaro Toepka, Angel Serrano, the distributor California Newsreel, or Folkstreams.

Film Details