Local filmmaker Carla Joelle Brown is creating a documentary about her maternal grandparents, a postal worker and a school teacher, who began their travels while living on Arunah Avenue in West Baltimore. The film “Everyone But Two: The Life, Love & Travel of Benjamin and Frances Graham” recounts the adventures of a pair of African-American travelers from Baltimore.
They “were unintentional civil rights pioneers when they traveled across the country by recreational vehicle starting in 1965,” Brown wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun. “This was a year after the signing of the Civil Rights Act [of 1964], prohibiting racial segregation in public accommodations, and the same week of the signing of the civil rights voting act and eruption of the Watts riots.”
She said they did not consult the guidebook “The Negro Motorist Green Book.”
“My grandfather kept meticulous records of their travel ... places, dates, routes taken, camping fees and entertainment,” she wrote. “They hitched a trailer to their cars.”
Brown said they traveled over the course of 35 years in three trailers, went 94,219.80 miles and spent $32,600.05 to reach every state but Alaska and Hawaii.
Brown received a $10,000 Ruby’s Artist Project Grant from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance in 2014 to start the documentary, and the National Association of State Park directors granted her free access to all the state parks to help her complete it.
Brown’s grandmother, Frances, died in 2016, but her 91-year-old grandfather, Benjamin Graham, remains active and lives in Randallstown.
“I loved every bit of our traveling,” said Benjamin Graham. “It wasn’t my decision to go on the road. I’d never really seen a trailer before. For the first couple of years, I did all the driving. Then, after a trip to Chicago, my wife said, ‘I can do it.’ From then on, I would take two hours then she would take two hours.”
The Grahams felt unwelcome twice, both times in Montana. They were once yelled at, denied assistance at a gasoline station.
But it was mostly a wonderful adventure. “They met a lot of white friends who stayed in touch over the years,” said Brown. “It was a counter-narrative to what you might think.”