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Man On Fire
by Karen Pecota

Grand Saline, Texas, a city in the East Texan region, is famous for its salt mines owned by the Chicago-based Morton Salt Company. The Morton Salt Mine in Grand Saline is the town’s main employer, and the largest of several rock-salt mines Morton operates in the U.S. Today, many businesses will only use the salt from these mines because of its purity. Since the late 1800s, Grand Saline is the famous home to one of the most pure salt mines in the country, with the name Grand Saline meaning "Big Salt."

Petroleum and lumber companies flourished in the region between the 1920s -1930s and agriculture, farming and ranching have had their influence. But, none as consistent as the salt mines found by the first settlers of Grand Saline being the ancient Caddo and Cherokee Indian groups. These Native Americans discovered and made use of a large salt prairie south of the town's present day location. They used evaporated salt from the brine stream that flows over the flats as a commodity they traded for other needed goods. However, several civilizations before have gleaned from the mines as the salt deposits are known to be around 250 million years old.

Director/screenwriter, Joel Fendelman, makes the case that his documentary Man on Fire acknowledgesGrand Saline's famous history of mining a natural mineral highly valued for our very existence, the town has not always been pure of its treatment to mankind.

In 2014, 79-year-old, Reverend Charles R. Moore, a retired United Methodist minister, self-immolated out of protest in his plight to combat social injustice, discrimination and racism.  Moore spent a lifetime protesting injustice nation-wide including the atrocities the town of his youth, Grand Saline, shared in their treatment of individuals within the surrounding Black communities. He was forever disheartened for their willingness to repent of their actions.

Moore was born near Grand Saline and grew up in a town he described as a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan that was diseased by racial discrimination. Moore recalls stories heard since he was a young boy that he could not shake from his memory. Stories that deeply affected him with respect to people in the black communities who had been brutally decapitated and had their heads placed on poles.

In recent years, Fendelman uncovers numerous stories similar to when high school basketball teams needing to travel through the town of Grand Saline to get to games were in need of a police escort for protection.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus says in regard to wealth ...To much is given, much is required... Could it be that Reverend Moore couldn't get away from the responsibilities one has according to biblical teachings to reconcile wrongs especially when blessings have been received? Back in the era Fendelman refers to in his film, biblical truths were revered.

In a note dated June 16, 2014, Moore wrote: “This decision to sacrifice myself was not impulsive: I have struggled all my life (especially the last several years) with what it means to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insistence that Christ calls a person to come and die seriously. He was not advocating self-immolation, but others have found this to be the necessary deed, as I have myself for some time now: it has been a long Gethsemane, and excruciating to keep my plans from my wife and other members of our family.”

The Texas-based Tyler Morning Telegraph newspaper obtained a copy of one of the notes Moore left behind from the Grand Saline police, and it offers a glimpse into a man deeply troubled by injustice and racism who carried this pain for decades.

On June 23, 2014 Moore drove from his home outside of Dallas to Grand Saline. He parked his car in a shopping center parking lot on the far eastern part of the city. He then proceeded to pour gasoline on himself and set himself on fire.

Family members said, "He wanted his death to count for something."

Fendelman, who also grew-up in the area, offers-up the narrative of a man with a conviction and the impact when drastic measures are taken to make a point. Fendelman's documentary is a conversation of the aftermath of Reverend Moore's suicide. Townspeople, fellow ministers and churchgoers share their opinions from personal incidents of racial violence; to those who discredit the prejudice; to those who agree with Moore; to those who feel Moore suffered from mental illness. Fendelman gives the audience food for thought. Whether one is religious or not, we all have to give an answer for the hope to reckon with a distasteful past. And, speak of how we will change to make our world a better place because we have been given so much.