ALTAMONT — “Forty years ago today, by Jingo. Looking back over these years have brought many revelations. Youthful dreams have failed of materialization and stern realities have replaced them.”

It is doubtful Altamont resident Charles Everett Ellis knew what he was getting into as he penned the first three sentences of his new diary on Jan. 22, 1927. Forty-four years and 2,560 pages later, a dying Ellis laid down his pen for the last time after commenting on family matters and world events alike for more than two generations.

Outpost Worldwide, a Kansas City, Mo.-based production company, is converting the diaries into a full-length documentary, “The Barber’s Diaries,” tentatively scheduled for release next fall.

When he began his diary, Ellis was the only black man in Altamont other than his own father. As the town barber, his clientele was virtually all white except for the occasional black traveler who would come through town on one of the two railroads that served the city at the time.

When he wrote his final words, Ellis had lived through a second World War as well as a Civil Rights Movement that had transformed the way people thought of one another.

Ellis’ story is one that needs to be told, said daughter Adrienne Ellis Reeves. It didn’t take Reeves long after her dad’s death in 1971 to realize she had a family treasure in her hands she needed to share with the world.

“When he died, he left them (the diaries) to me in his will,” Reeves said. “That’s when I realized they were worthwhile.

“It’s a marvelous compendium, especially for a black man who had gone no further than high school,” she said.

“By Jingo” was a standard Ellis exclamation, his daughter said.

“It was one of Dad’s favorite expressions, but I never heard anybody else say it,” she said.

Reeves said her dad used the diary as an outlet for his feelings.

“His customers were all white, and they spoke about many things as if he wasn’t there,” she said. “They had no idea what a creative life of the mind he had.”

Reeves said her dad was an avid reader of the classics and other types of literature, adding he had checked out every book in the Altamont library at one time or another.

Reeves soon passed off her father’s writings to youngest sister Marilyn, an essayist based in Washington, D.C. But Marilyn only got through the first volume before her premature death in 1992.

“I knew it was then up to me,” Reeves said.

But Reeves was in the middle of her own career as a romance novelist. That didn’t stop her from thinking about her dad and the story he told over so many years.

“I knew something had to be done, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it,” she admitted.

Youngest brother Caswell tried to help his big sister with the project, but that collaboration ended when Caswell died in 2005.

Reeves was truly a damsel in distress. But she found the knight to save her project in David Henderson, a former CBS News correspondent who met Reeves at a Baha’i convention in 2006. Henderson’s wife Kit Bigelow is active in the U.S. Baha’i community, and Reeves is an active member of the Baha’i faith.

“We were talking about what he (Ellis) had written,” Reeves said. “the diary project had been weighing on my mind, but I wasn’t certain what to do about it. David offered to assist me, and we just took it from there.”

Henderson soon went to visit Reeves and her sisters in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where all three surviving sisters — Marguerite, Adrienne and Wilma — have all settled.

Then he started reading.

“All you have to do is read the first page of the first diary,” he said. “He wanted to bring meaning to his life on his 40th birthday.

“As time went by, he talked about everything from storms in Altamont to world affairs.”

Having caught diary fever, Henderson began treating the symptoms by starting a documentary project.

“Making a movie is not as easy as it might seem,” he said. “This isn’t the type of story that fits into any category.”

Henderson is working with contacts in the public television field. The biggest hang-up, he said, is securing sufficient funding for a full-length documentary that could eventually be transformed into a theatrical release.

But there’s light at the end of Henderson’s tunnel.

“There’s a growing sphere of interest among potential funders,” he said. “Our challenge is to tell the story.”

It’s an all-consuming story, he said.

“Right now, I’m living and breathing ‘The Barber’s Diaries,’” he said.

Henderson said he won’t allow anybody to radically dramatize the story.

“We’re not going to fictionalize the story,” he said. “We’re not going to make it into something it isn’t. Telling it the right way is the most important thing.”

Henderson, who said the documentary project could be completed by next fall, said it’s a story for which the times are right.

“We’re at a time in our history when this story needs to be told,” he said. “It touches across all segments of our culture.”

The folks at Outpost Worldwide are excited about the project.

“It’s such an amazing story,” said producer Val Anderson. “We definitely want to see this project blossom into something really great.”

Born and raised in Altamont, Charles Everett Ellis began barbering there around 1903. Eventually, he owned his own shop, even though he was the only black man in town other than his own father.

Charles’ father Levi and uncle William had opened separate barber shops in Altamont around the turn of the 20th century. But all of Charles’ relatives — except for his father — eventually ended up in Chicago.

Ellis and his wife raised seven children, all of whom were born in Altamont. But the Great Depression hit the rural Midwest hard and Ellis sent his family away to live on a farm near Alton.

Ellis stayed in Altamont until 1933. After living in Chicago and Detroit for brief periods, he hitchhiked to Arizona, where he again pursued barbering and was eventually reunited with his family. Daughters Marguerite, Adrienne and Wilma survive, while Charles Jr., Howard, Caswell and Marilyn are deceased.

Reeves, who was about 10 years old when the family left Altamont, said she has vivid memories of attending school there. She said there was relatively little racial conflict.

“Every once in a while, somebody would call us the ‘n’ word,” she said. “And if any black people ever came into town, they would always end up at our house.”

Reeves said she often played with the Smith girls next door.

Phyllis Smith Conner said the Ellises were a nice family.

“Everybody got along with them,” she said. “Everybody loved them.

“Nobody paid any attention to the fact they were black,” Conner added. “We ran in and out of each other’s houses all the time, and I babysat some of Adrienne’s younger siblings.”

Conner has particularly fond memories of Mrs. Ellis, who she described as a “very quiet, very honorable lady.’

“She was a good cook and a good mother,” Conner added. “She always dressed nice, even though they didn’t have a lot of money.”

Outpost Worldwide has created a Web site for the project that includes a promotional video available online. The project’s Web address is

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or


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