LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton has two storylines, both of which show the impoverished life of residents in the American South. The documentary draws the connection — a vicious cycle — between poverty and the lack of education opportunity for black people living in the Mississippi Delta, over 150 years after the abolition of slavery.
Laura Lee (LaLee) Wallace, a great-granddaughter of a slave, is an illiterate 62-year-old woman who has been living all her life in Tallahatchie County, one of the poorest in the United States. She has one surviving son, nine daughters, 38 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. Her daily living consists of many difficulties: LaLee has to raise many of her grandchildren, her son is continually put in prison, and most of her daughters have to leave Tallahatchie County searching for work. LaLee’s life is heavily dependent on the cotton industry; she struggles to earn a living by cooking lunches for people working in local cotton factories.
Reggie Barnes is the superintendent of the West Tallahatchie school system, which is put on probation by the state due to poor standardized test results. The school has the hardship of trying to educate the children of illiterate parents. If it fails to raise the annual standardized test scores, the school will be taken over by the state.