Jim Jackson and James Payne

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

Two of Tryon’s most treasured citizens featured in Saturday’s ‘Screen on the Green’ film

 Jim Jackson’s father moved to Tryon in 1904 and began the process of establishing his textile business, proudly named Cloth of Gold. Some 10 years later, James “Jimmy” Jackson was born, also known as “Jimbo,” as his childhood yardman, maid and later his own daughter affectionately called him.   

It was a time when cars were just beginning to replace the horse-drawn carriage and the small town of Tryon was sizzling with activity.   

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“Doors were open back then! It was a wonderful time, when you could drop in on most anyone and say hello,” Jackson fondly recalls, with his unceasing smile.  

According to Jackson, Tryon should return to that open-door policy. “We have a rule at our home: Come in! Come in! When you come to my door, simply come in and say who you are,” Jackson continues.  

At about the same time Jackson was born, just across town, on the very same spot where Fredericks Design sits today, James Payne was born.   

“I wondered, how my great grandmother, just 34 years out of slavery, could save enough money, and come up to Tryon and buy a home it’s amazing to me,” said Payne.   

“Back then, well, all slavery was bad, but some slave owners were not … that bad. Some would let their slaves work outside of their plantations, but the slave owners could keep half of the money,” Payne continues.   

Payne talks of the town he dearly loved but struggled with, because many of those same doors that Jim Jackson affectionately remembered were closed to him. Payne recalls going to school on cold winter mornings, during segregation, and crowding around a hot stove full of soot, with as many as 50 other black children at his side. 

“That was the way it was back then we had to accept it,” said Payne.   

At the request of Tryon Town Manager Zach Ollis and the Town of Tryon, a full-length interview of both men, entitled “The Tryonites – In Their Own Words,” was produced. It is set to pre-screen at the annual Tryon International Film Festival Fundraiser’s “Screen on the Green,” at the Mimosa Inn on June 3, from 6 to 10 p.m.  

Local author and filmmaker, Kirk Gollwitzer, considered the challenges of setting up interviews with both men.

“I felt confident that I could get the approval of Jim Jackson to meet with me for an interview, but I was unsure of his health. Amy Jackson and son Julien were very instrumental in bringing Jim to the home of Robert Lange. When the interview was done Jim gave me the compliment of my life: “You’re good, man, because you made me open up!” 

Gollwitzer said that his next challenge was to arrange an interview with James Payne. 

“I was extremely concerned about getting Mr. Payne’s approval for that interview, because he did not know me from Adam’s housecat. I also believe that, even though he is quite talkative to his close friends like Crys Armbrust, Ray McLeese and others, he is an extremely private person as well. Luckily the stars aligned and we did it. I remember that immediately following the interview, Mr. Payne turned to me and softly said, ‘I’m going to be quiet now…and not talk anymore.’”  

The film weaves the memories of both men into a rich tapestry of historic Tryon, their separate travels around the world, and shared passion for equal rights.   

“I just want to see a time when blacks and whites will come closer together. Integration helped, but we’re not quite there yet!” Jackson proclaims.   

During the film James Payne says, “We were separate but equal back then there’s no such thing as separate but equal.”  

The one-hour and 13 minute film is rich with photography gathered from several sources including Mayor Alan Peoples, Happy McLeod and others. Crys Armbrust reached out to the Nina Simone Family Foundation, and gained approval to use treasured photos and music of Nina Simone, whom both men knew quite well.   

“By the end of the film, I expect that most of you will reach the same conclusion as I did, that both men have a profound love for Tryon and a deep respect for their fellow human beings,” said Gollwitzer. 

Tickets to the June 3 event can be purchased at the Tryon Bottle, The Nest Artisan Market and Eventbrite: Screen on the Green – Fundraiser at the Mimosa Inn. Bring lawn chairs. 

– article submitted by The Polk County Film Initiative