Documentary shows history of Norris Community

Commerce – The segregated past of a Commerce neighborhood and its evolvement through the years is brought to light in the recent premier of the documentary film "The Other Side of the Track."

Separated from the rest of the City by railroad tracks, the Norris Community was established through the creation of a club in 1974. Once called "The Hole," the Norris Community has overcome the challenges of a once segregated society and worked to get residents involved.

"When it rains throughout the City of Commerce, everything washes and runs down into Norris Community because it is of a lower land elevation, which causes the streets to wash away and holes to become apparent. So that's one of the reasons it was called 'The Hole,' because it is of lower elevation from the rest of Commerce," said Harry Turner, deacon with Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.

One of the first meetings of the Norris Community Club sought to improve poor road conditions and get people registered to vote.

"We got 200 people registered to vote, and we were able to put Ivory Moore on the city council," said Opal Pannell, longtime resident and former treasurer of the Norris Community Club. "By putting Mr. Moore on the council, that gave him a chance to work with us."

The Converging Literacies Center (CLiC) and the Department of Literature and Languages at Texas A&M University-Commerce, with the help of a grant, created the film.

Recent improvements to the Norris Community include the creation of a neighborhood crime watch. Challenges remain, and Norris Community residents hope the documentary can spark awareness and generate the need for additional improvements.

"My grandkids don't know anything about those days," Harry Turner said. "So I think the video was good for that reason to educate blacks and whites. But let's not forget, let's not deceive ourselves in thinking that everything is peachy and lovely because we still have a long way to go."

Above, you can hear an interview with Harry Turner and Opal Pannell, along with cast members Billy Reed and Dr. James Conrad.