Like many who first spot Jim Crow Road in Flowery Branch, Leah Michelle Long said the sign immediately caught her attention.
She moved to a lake house near the road with her husband in 2015, before she had a chance to see the surrounding property. Aware of the history behind the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation, Long said she felt compelled to uncover the backstory of the road.
She soon found out that the road was named in honor of Glennon “Jim” Crow, who once owned the property along its path. Crow was a local resident, who helped Black and White neighbors alike in the early 1930s.
“When I asked locals about it at the time, many of them knew of Jim and the family, they’ve lived on this road since the 1920s,” Long recounted. “I heard all kinds of stories, but no one seemed interested in the fact that it might be sending the wrong message to newcomers.”
Long said she let the topic go and accepted that she would have to continue explaining the road name every time a family or friend visited her from out of town.
Her attention was directed back to Jim Crow Road when a petition started on Change.org to rename the street “Crow Road.” Long said only a couple of hundred people signed it, and it lost momentum. Then, in June 2020, she said the petition resurfaced, gaining more signatures with each day. So far, it has over 8,000 signatures. A month after that, another petition was made by a local resident to keep the road’s original name. And, on July 2, the Flowery Branch City Council voted to change the name of its portion of Jim Crow Road to G.C. Crow Road. The signs on McEver Road were officially replaced on Sept. 3, 2020.
Living in the center of this change, Long said she saw the opportunity in June 2020 to record these potential historical moments and film a documentary about Jim Crow Road.
“Flowery Branch, if you look at its history, it’s a very isolated, small town,” she said. “We’re talking 800 people until 1980. And then all of a sudden, it’s projected to be 14,000 by 2024. This is a quickly growing town, and Jim Crow Road is going to continue to be a problem.”
Because of the pandemic, Long said her job as a ballroom dance instructor was put on hold, so she used her available time to narrate, film and edit the documentary titled, “Jim Crow Rd.” She interviewed over 30 Flowery Branch residents over the summer about their opinions and knowledge of the road, and hired local musicians to compose music for the film.
The documentary, which she recently finished, is her sixth film project, clocking in at one hour and 45 minutes in length. Long said the film explores the racial history of the area, searches for the identity and contributions of Crow and documents the changes occurring in Flowery Branch.
Although none of Crow’s relatives are in the film, Long said she was able to get their history through working with Hall County Commissioner Kathy Cooper, who served as a “middle person” between her and the family. Long also dove into road commissioner records, and discovered that Jim Crow Road was renamed from Old Federal Road, sometime between April 1960 and July 1962.
Long said she couldn’t find any record of why the road name switched or the catalyst behind it.
Instead of asking her interviewees if they think the road should be changed, she also began asking for their opinions regarding the timing of the road change, which took place during the Civil Rights Movement.
Long noted that the road’s history goes back to the 1800s when it was controlled by the Cherokee. She said the land is the beginning of the Trail of Tears.
“There’s so much history that I got to go into,” Long said. “It started out being, ‘Should the road be changed or not?’ And, it got much more interesting for me. This film is mostly educational, there’s a lot of history in it, but it definitely gives you a look into where it’s no longer a small town, and how the city and county are developing.”
Throughout her extensive research of the road and Flowery Branch, Long said what surprised her the most was how little the development of Hall has been documented. She added that the first map she found with any road names included one from 1970.
“I was lucky to work with Ronda Sanders at the (Hall County) library, she’s great in the genealogy department and was super helpful on this project,” Long said.
Even after finishing the documentary, Long said she has been unable to find a definite answer to the road’s renaming. She said Crow’s family mentioned that the commissioners named the road after him because he helped pave the street. However, Long said she couldn’t find any documentation of this. She did find that Crow served on a committee which helped bring Southern Bell Telephone Company to Flowery Branch.
“I know he was definitely involved in his part of the community, I just wish they kept better records,” she said. “You don’t have a map with Jim Crow Road on it until 1970, but you can go back to maps from the 1800s and that road is there.”
Regardless of what message viewers take away from the film, Long said she hopes they find it thought-provoking.
“I hope it gives people a chance to listen to a perspective that maybe might challenge their own,” she said. “ … I hope this gives them (locals) a little piece of their town that they can preserve forever.”
Long is working with Nicky Buggs, a producer out of Atlanta, to submit the film as a Screen Actors Guild Awards project. She is currently looking for local screening opportunities, possibly with Brenau University of Flowery Branch City Hall.
For more information about the documentary, including the cast list and synopsis, visit imbd.com.
The Times will update readers when a screening date for the film is scheduled.