In his documentary ‘Silver Dollar Road,’ director Raoul Peck recounts the family history of the Reels family. Gertrude Reels, the family’s matriarch, inherited 65 acres of land from her father, Mitchell, who got it from his father, Elijah. For years, the family built a life on their land while simultaneously adding value to their community and countless Black folks around the area. However, trouble soon knocked on their door, and disputes arose when Adams Creek Associates laid claim over the property’s waterfront area, starting a legal battle that the Reels continue to fight.
With his film, Peck showcases the joyful life that the Reels have made for themselves while also depicting the numerous struggles the family has faced over the years. The touching story of Gertrude Reels and her family compels the viewers to pay attention to their story and that of numerous others like them. Consequently, if you’ve found yourself invested in the Reels family, here is everything you might like to know about their current whereabouts!
Where is Gertrude Reels Now?
Gertrude Reels, the Estate’s administrator, was a novice at treading judicial waters but rose to the occasion regardless of it after her father Mitchell’s death. As such, the woman secured a court ruling that declared, “The surviving eleven (11) children or descendants of children of Mitchell Reels are the owners of the lands exclusive of any other claim of any one.” Thus, securing the land for her coming generations, Gertrude became a beacon in the Reels family and their neighboring communities.
Gertrude saw the coming signs of trouble from the late 70s when her uncle Shedrick “Shade” Reels tried to assume ownership over more than 13 acres of the land. Still, things took a sharp turn in 2011 after her son, Melvin Davis, and his brother, Licurtis Reels, were sentenced to prison after refusing to evacuate their homes on the property’s waterfront. In the coming years, the family continued to fight for the brother’s release, and during this time, Lizzie Presser of ProPublica met with Gertrude and her family to do a piece on their lives.
This article, co-published in 2019 with The New Yorker, went on to become the basis for Peck’s documentary, which worked on in close collaboration with Presser. While working on the film, Peck attended Gertrude’s 95th birthday in 2021. “Not only was the immediate family there, but family came in from all different parts of the country, and I felt at home. I felt an intimacy,” said Peck. “They were a genuine family that was in an unthankful situation that shouldn’t have been happening.” Thus, at the time of writing, Gertrude continues to live surrounded by her loving family and standing up for their rights.
Where Are Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels Now?
On February 27th, 2019, under James Hairston’s attorney, Melvin Davis and Licurtis saw release after a grueling seven years, eleven months, and ten days of imprisonment. Presser wrote about the brothers in her article, “The brothers hadn’t been charged with a crime or given a jury trial. Still, they believed so strongly in their right to the property that they spent the next eight years fighting the case from jail, becoming two of the longest-serving inmates for civil contempt in U.S. history.” By doing so, the writer established the unjust experiences the brothers underwent, putting their situation in context.
Despite their release from Carteret County Jail, Melvin and Licurtis, 72 and 61 at the time, the brothers received the condition that neither would return to the properties they lived on for their whole lives. While giving up that property will still leave the Reels with more than half of the land, the waterfront continues to hold great significance for the brothers and their families since they built a livelihood from it for so long.
Furthermore, Davis believes forfeiting the fight for the waterfront will only lead to more problems. “They’ll run the taxes up where you can’t afford to pay the taxes unless you’re making big bucks,” Davis said in a conversation with ABC11. “I’m taking care of my kids, making sure they’ve got a place to swim and be baptized like we were.”
Where Are Kim Duhon and Mamie Ellison Now?
Kim Duhon, Gertrude’s granddaughter, was only a teenager when the initial disputes regarding the family’s property came into the picture. Nevertheless, as the problems began to grow, she started playing a more active role in the family’s fight to keep their land. Therefore, much of the legal responsibility fell on Kim’s shoulders when her uncles were incarcerated. However, another tragedy was simultaneously unfolding in Kim’s life since her husband had cancer.
Meanwhile, Mamie Ellison, Gertrude’s daughter and Kim’s aunt, continued to take over a leadership role in the family, holding its members together during this adverse time. For the same reason, when director Peck started making his documentary, he realized the two women had to be the narrative’s focus to convey the strength, joy, and unity of the Reels family.
These days, although the rest of her family seems to be off social media channels, Kim Duhon, an interior decorator, can be found on Instagram and Facebook. Recently, the woman has been sharing her and her family’s experience attending premieres for ‘Silver Dollar Road,’ around the country. Apart from the same, fans can find Duhon sharing her personal life, recalling her husband, who has since passed away, as well as her mother, Bessie Jones, who continues to be a close friend in her life.