George Stoney Discusses All My Babies at Anthology Film Archives


From Elliot Margolies,

.......I got a call from George in New York, asking me if I knew a “Bernard Coley.” He had received several voicemails from Bernard, but wasn’t sure why. Yes, I knew Bernard. He was active in our Palo Alto community volunteering for several organizations. I called Bernard on George’s behalf. It turned out that Bernard was searching the Internet for any mentions of his relatives and came upon a link from the US Library of Congress. In 2002, the agency selected “All My Babies” as one of twenty-five films to preserve. “All My Babies” was produced by George Stoney in 1952. It was about an African-American midwife in rural Georgia – named Miss Mary Coley – Bernard’s grandmother. Bernard recalled hearing about a movie, but like most of his relatives - had never seen it. Miss Mary had been a poor sharecropper with eleven children of her own. She was also the most sought-after midwife in Dougherty County during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. She walked miles to shacks and farms to deliver over 3,000 babies, sometimes fashioning a crib from a cardboard box. Watching the film was a life-changing event for Bernard.

Through the lens of George's camera, Bernard rediscovered his personal history and a new pride for the work of his grandmother and her pivotal role in the community. Bernard’s discovery also marked the beginning of my long desired friendship with George Stoney. When the Smithsonian Museum presented an exhibit on Miss Mary and two other African-American rural midwives, George gave them a short video I produced about Bernard to include alongside his work. Some of Bernard’s uncles and aunts had assumed that a Hollywood producer exploited their mother and made a bundle from the movie. In fact, George had sold some property to finish the film the way he wanted to make it. Bernard conducted a lengthy full court press on his family to disarm the family canard and gain acceptance for George. George accompanied Bernard to Albany, Georgia to meet the extended family. It was the first time he'd been back since Miss Mary's funeral in 1966, where, in the tense days of the Civil Rights movement, George was the only white present.

In 2007, I went with George and four other friends of his to Albany to videotape Coley relatives and a celebration of Miss Mary’s life, organized by Bernard, his wife Denise,

and George. About 100 attended the event - many of them were Miss Mary’s babies who shared stories they’d heard about her. We were put up in different homes of Coley relatives and friends. I stayed at Ms. Watkins modest home in a guestroom overflowing with bags of Christmas decorations. George had a youthful enthusiasm about this sequel project. He had many fortuitous meetings in 21st century Albany. One day, for example, an African American man who saw him viewing a monument approached George. Not only was this man the first African American mayor of Albany, but an obstetrician as well. What a frame-change from being followed by Albany police 55 years earlier while shooting his film. In 2009, George’s longtime partner, Betty, passed away. George was 93 and his own health began to wane. He gave up his third story walkup studio in Greenwich Village and moved into an NYU-owned building with an elevator. His eyes and ears weakened. His teeth were breaking. In 2010, I roomed with George at the annual community media conference. It was a privilege to care for him that weekend and walk arm in arm to each workshop.,,

From Lauren Glenn Davidian:

Dear Friends, 
It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that George Stoney, the founder of our movement, unflagging champion of free speech, open media and opportunity for all, has died in his home in New York City this evening. George was well into his 90's and actively producing movies and supporting access advocates until the end. George first came to Vermont in 1985 to help us train community members during the early years of CCTV and, then, Channel 8 in Chittenden County. He brought his bag of VHS  tapes to show what others were doing and reminded us that our work is less about media making and more about community building--a message he never failed to deliver at the countless access events and conferences that he attended. George was brilliant, gracious, untiring and a deep inspiration to us all. He traveled and had friends around the world, was recognized with high honors, made dozens of films and taught thousands of students. Last year, I attended a class at NYU which featured footage from the Canadian Film Board's Challenge for Change project, which first convinced him of the power of video to animate social change. Still teaching at 93!!  You can read more about his illustrious career here:
Thanks to George and our collective hard work, we have forged a vital community resource that can make our state a better place for all people. Opportunity and equity. The seeds and fruit of our efforts.   My best and thanks for your work, in George's honor, Lauren-Glenn Davidian

Here is George just a week ago at his 96th birthday: 

Betty Yu of the Center for Media Justice wrote: Words can not express how deeply saddened I am by this tremendous loss. I've known George Stoney for 17 years of my life. He was a tremendous mentor to me and profoundly shaped who I am as an organizer, activist and mediamaker today. He was prolific in so many ways - as the "Father of Public Access television", documentary filmmaker, and community media builder and so much more... I feel so privileged to have had him in my life. The world has suffered a great loss today...RIP George. We love you! You will be so greatly missed.



This is a picture of George at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY with a Paper Tiger type backdrop painted with an image of the front door of the Sanctuary.