Remembering the Legacy of Samuel Lander
By Jarron Gravley
On a warm February morning that some might call unseasonable, a daily radio show wraps up. Paul Crutcher’s The Breakfast Club has just ended. He goes to his office and sits at his computer, answering emails, as well as taking time to listen to a new batch of student, and faculty-submitted radio projects. He takes a moment and looks to his walls, covered in posters of former film festivals and events. One such poster adorns the wall, exhibiting the image of the founder of Lander University, along with some information on the reason for which this poster is displayed.
“It came about because I like history,” says Crutcher, “So I wanted to know the history of where I was working, which is Lander U.” He explains that on one day, to start off his quest to discover more, the head librarian of the Larry Jackson Library once took him to a shelf, which had one book entitled “The History of Lander,” which Crutcher describes as being as thick as a pad of sticky notes. It was this lack of historical information that lead him to talk to then-president of Lander Dr. Dan Ball about the idea of making a documentary on the founding of Lander University.
It took Crutcher and co-producer Dr. Robert Stevenson eighteen months to research for the film. “It was just me at night, coming in from a long day of work, going through boxes and boxes of documents, trying to find the story of how the school started.” He pondered how it would even be possible to put all the information together into a cohesive film. He says he went to the Caroliniana, the library of the University of South Carolina, spending many weekends transcribing “journal after journal after journal,” and “letter after letter after letter” straight from founder Rev. Samuel Lander.
It was after this that Crutcher knew that he had something. He would form a story from all the background and historical context he received. He would travel to interview and living relatives of Lander, as well as travelling to Virginia to see the house in which Lander was raised. He decided to tell Lander’s story through various chapters of his life, with local actors all taking part in re-enactments of Lander’s life. “It was eighteen months of strenuous work,” says Crutcher, not factoring in months of additional editing for the project.
Upon completion, the film was previewed to President Ball and his cabinet. Crutcher recalls many people being in tears during this screening. A premier screening took place in October 2009. Over one hundred members of the Lander family attended the event in the Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center auditorium. “They had a huge reunion, basically,” says Crutcher. He regards this event as a “tremendous honor,” as it was a “family history” as well as a documentary feature, with several members in the audience giving it a standing ovation.
Crutcher takes a moment to remember a dinner he had after the screening of the film, in which he and Dr. Stevenson were given certificates to signify that they were now honorary members of the Lander family, which Crutcher regards as being “very cool.” He says he even still receives emails from Lander family members, calling him their cousin.
Regarding the legacy of the film, Crutcher remarks that he hopes the film “stands up,” and that they told the story of who Samuel Lander was as a person, along with his family heritage and upbringing. He hopes that generations of Lander students will remember the story of the man who started it all.