A new documentary, The Mighty Heroes of Stephens-Lee, chronicles the stories and times of the athletes, teachers and famous band of Asheville’s African-American high school. It premieres in a special showing Saturday, 4 p.m., at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center.
The film will also be shown throughout February on URTV to mark Black History Month. Copies of the movie will also be available for sale.
A year in the making, the documentary is the brainchild of Bennie Lake and Johnny Bailey, both Stephens-Lee alumni, who earlier wrote a book, The Greatest Sports Heroes of the Stephens-Lee Bears, focusing on some of the school’s star athletes. Stephens-Lee closed in 1965 with integration, when African-American students moved to Asheville High.
“After the book came out, we wanted to go into more detail and share some more of the personal stories,” Lake told Xpress. “We wanted to get these stories before they disappeared. Not everyone will read a book, but they might go see a film.”
Lake and Bailey were joined in the project by local author and publisher Ralph Roberts, who directed the film.
Roberts said he remembered the Stephens-Lee band from his youth as “just totally dominating the parades — they were incredible,” and that he was happy to be involved in the project.
“I think it’s very important,” he told Xpress. “Integration was in some ways a bittersweet reward. It opened up amazing opportunities, but this unique place and sense of identity there was lost.”
— David Forbes, staff writer