MEET MARY PLEASANT--Mother of Civil Rights in California

Born a slave, she became an Underground Railroad operative and the most talked about woman in gold-rush San Francisco. A celebrated entrepreneur, she amassed a joint fortune once assessed at $30,000,000. Called "The Black City Hall" for the jobs and appeals she won for African Americans, she risked security to aid the abolitionist John Brown. Her court battle in the California Supreme Court impacted modern-day civil-rights law. Her name was Mary Pleasant, and we deserve to know her.
This documentary unfolds her story through performance, commentary, re-enactments, visuals, and evocative montage. Winner of 5 awards internationally, it has been broadcast on PBS across the US and Canada and screened at Cannes.

  • Cheryl Susheel Bibbs (aka Susheel Bibbs), filmmaker-Performer, P.h.D.
    Zoom (season 5), An Unsung Muse, Meet Mary Pleasant (Mother of Civil Rights in CA), The Legacy of Mary Ellen Pleasant
  • Susheel Bibbs
    An Unsung Muse, Meet Mary Pleasant (Mother of Civil Rights in CA), The Legacy of Mary Ellen Pleasant
  • Susheel Bibbs
    Zoom (WGBH-TV, PBS), National Emmy, The Spider's Web, An Unsung Muse, same as above
  • J. Greenberg, Location segment producer/DP
    KVIE-TV, (PBS) Executive Producer/ Director of Programming
  • Ruby Dee host
    Key Cast
    Sag Award: Am. Gangster; celebrated actress of stage and film
  • Tim Walton, editor
    Key Cast
    KVIE-TV, PBS: America's Heartland, The Legacy of Mary Ellen Pleasant, others
  • Rick Moss, PhD, historian
    Key Cast
    Director, Afro-Am. Museum, Los Angeles: Curator/Exec. Dir., African-Am. Museum & Library at Oakland
  • Shirley Ann Moore, PhD, historian
    Key Cast
    Author: Af-Am Women Confront the West /CA State Univ, Sacramento
  • Nathaniel Philbrick, PhD, author
    Key Cast
    Author: Away off Shore (Nantucket), numerous TV appearances
  • Gwendolyn Robinson, Social Historian
    Key Cast
    Author: Seek the Truth; Canadian History Award; Director, Chatham's WISH Centet
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature, Television
  • Genres:
    performance, African American History, drama, American History, Civil Rights, slavery, Civil War, gold rush, John Brown, Marie LaVeaux, documentary
  • Runtime:
    56 hours 30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    January 7, 2008
  • Production Budget:
    215,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, NTSC
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Cannes Film Festival
    May 2009
  • Hollywood Black Film Festival
    United States
    June 6, 2008
  • NY ITL Film & Video Festival in Hollywood
    Hollywood. CA
    United States
    August 8, 2008
    North American Preview
    Best Documentary
  • Berkeley It'l Film and Video Festival
    Berkeley, CA
    United States
    October 7, 2007
    North American Preview
    Best in Festival: Peace-Reel Medallion
  • NY ITL Film & Video Festival in New York
    NY, NY
    United States
    June 9, 2009
    Best Director of a Documentary
  • Sacramento Film Festival
    United States
    April 7, 2009
  • Honolulu Film Festival
    Honolulu, HI
    United States
    June 1, 2010
    Gold Kahuna Award
  • NoCal Broadcast Awards
    United States
    March 27, 2008
    American Public Television Premiere
    Silver Telly Broadcast Award
  • Diaspora Symposium, Spelman College
    Atlanta, GA
    United States
    April 8, 2009
  • Many more 2010-2016 in Sacramento, St. Louis, Oakland, Los Angeles, Nantucket, Atlanta, & Chatham, ONT. Here is a sampling
  • Bayview Opera House
    San Francisco
    United States
    October 5, 2014
  • California Historical Society
    San Francisco, CA
    United States
    January 11, 2015
  • Afro-American Museum
    Los Angeles
    United States
    April 5, 2015
  • Napa Valley Museum
    Yountville, CA
    United States
    March 6, 2016
  • Movies on a Big Screen
    Sacramento, CA
    United States
    September 7, 2014
  • WISH Center Symposium
    November 13, 2011
  • Oakland Museum (four screenings)
    Oakland, CA
    United States
    October 19, 2012
  • PBS (National Television) - broadcasts 2008-2017; on 40% of all stations
    NETA distributors
    United States
    January 27, 2008
    National PBS premiere
Distribution Information
  • Stuart Ahlson, Nicole Holland:INT Distribution (Limited distribution), Beverly Hills, in 6 World Markets)
    Country: Worldwide
  • Rashid Bahati: Leaddog Ent. Distributors (Ltd distribution in African, European, some US markets)
    Country: South Africa
Director Biography - Cheryl Susheel Bibbs (aka Susheel Bibbs), filmmaker-Performer, P.h.D.

The producer, director, and writer of the film, Susheel Bibbs, formerly on the faculty of University of California at Berkeley, holds a doctorate in Communications, with emphasis in the Mass Communication of African-American/Diaspora history and is the recipient of a national Emmy for her work as a Public TV Executive Producer at WGBH- TV in Boston. Bibbs is also a well-known touring classical soprano and actress and has toured in opera and concert and in her one-woman enactment of pioneer/activist Mary Ellen Pleasant in the US and in Canada since 1994 – a program that has been acclaimed in the US and Canada and is interwoven into this award-winning film.
In addition, Dr. Bibbs has conducted research internationally on the spiritual and black classical song and is now touring her a film AN UNSUNG MUSE and developing a one on THE HYERS – black activist-divas of the post-Reconstruction era.
You can learn more about Dr. Bibbs, donate to her work, and purchase her book and DVDs on her at or via her personal site a

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Director Statement

My goal is to present unsung but important stories about African Americans and women that can inspire a broad range of audiences through music, drama, informed commentary, and evocative montages. I want to move my viewers as well as inform them.