TV Reviews : A Legacy of Racism in ‘Trouble Behind’

Life in an almost all-white Southern town is the subject of the documentary “Trouble Behind” (at 10 tonight on KCET Channel 28). It’s a provocative look at the legacy of racism and the insidious nature of selective memory, viewed through the troubled history of Corbin, Ky.

Corbin was a peaceful little community until just after the turn of the century, when the railroad and its attendant jobs swelled the population. When the United States entered World War I, many of Corbin’s young whites went into the service and their jobs went to blacks. When the war ended and the white veterans returned, the seeds of disorder had been sown.

On the night of Oct. 31, 1919, a mob of armed whites routed blacks from their living quarters, beat many of them and drove them out of town. The legacy of that night, and the attitudes behind it, still prevails. Today, Corbin (1990 population: 7,419) has only one black resident.


Many of the town’s white residents downplay the 1919 incident and insist that they are not racist. Blacks, says one white, “have chosen to live elsewhere.”

Says the town’s mayor: “We don’t have any such problems (with minorities) because we don’t . . . have any ethnic minorities living here.”

Interviews with several of Corbin’s young people show how racism is inculcated from one generation to the next. The filmmakers even attend a teen-age drinking party where, predictably, much of the talk is racist bravado.

One of the most thoughtful observations about Corbin comes from a young black who attempted to transfer to Corbin High School to play football before he was driven away by threats. "(Corbin) is not the real world,” he says. “In the real world, you have to deal with all kinds of people. It’s not about who your daddy is or who you are related to.”

“Trouble Behind” was produced and directed by Robby Henson.