Welcome to Shelbyville: America’s Small Town Melting Pot

Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during ESL class. (Photo by: Greg Poschman)

Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during ESL class. (Photo by: Greg Poschman)

Welcome to Shelbyville is a look at America at a crossroads. In a small Tennessee town in the heart of the Bible Belt, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Just a stone’s throw away from Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan), Shelbyville’s longtime African American and white residents are challenged with how best to integrate with a burgeoning Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Somali refugees of Muslim faith.

Independent Lens: Welcome to Shelbyville
7/3/2011, 10:30 pm WOSU TV
7/8/2011, 1:00 am WOSU TV

Set on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election, the film captures the interaction between Shelbyville’s old and new residents as they search for a way to live together during that tumultuous, history-changing year.

The economy was in crisis, factories were closing, and jobs were hard to find. The local Tyson chicken plant was hiring hundreds of new Somali refugees, and when a local reporter initiated a series of articles about these newcomers, a flurry of controversy and debate erupted. Just as the town’s Latino population began to grapple with their own immigrant identity, African American residents looked back at their segregated past, balancing perceived threats to their livelihood and security against the values that they learned through their own long struggle for civil rights.

While the newcomers, mostly of Muslim faith, attempt to make new lives for themselves and their children, leaders in this deeply religious community attempt to guide their congregations through this period of unprecedented change.