Although writer-director George Stevens Jr., the driving force behind this network-television mini-series about events that set in motion the desegregation of American public schools, confuses length with depth, expressive acting and the material's inherent historical importance make it mandatory viewing. 1950, South Carolina: The schools serving the African-American...read more
Although writer-director George Stevens Jr., the driving force behind this network-television mini-series about events that set in motion the desegregation of American public schools, confuses length with depth, expressive acting and the material's inherent historical importance make it mandatory viewing. 1950, South Carolina: The schools serving the African-American students of small town Clarendon suffer in comparison with those serving the area's white children. When School Superintendent Springer (Macon McCalman) refuses to give even a single, run-down bus to schoolteacher Reverend Delaine (Ed Hall), he persuades Mr. Briggs (Tommy Hollis), the father of one of his students, to sue the district. South Carolina's violation of the 14th Amendment, which provides for separate but equal facilities for all school Children, stirs the interest of the NAACP. In Manhattan, NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall (Sidney Poitier) debates with his associates about the language of the Briggs lawsuit: Perhaps this is the moment to challenge the constitutionality of segregation. South Carolina Governor Byrnes (John McMartin) caves on the issue of educational improvements, but local judge Waties Waring (Willam Cain) insists that Marshall argue his anti-segregation stand. Marshall loses. Having reaffirmed the separate-but-equal standard, Marshall has no choice but to try to coax the United States Supreme Court to support integration on a national level; he's staunchly opposed by legendary attorney John W. Davis (Burt Lancaster), who defends the position that each state must make its own sovereign laws. Despite the Court's conservative inclinations, Marshall and his overworked staff press on, looking for a legal precedent for striking down segregation laws. When a right wing justice dies, new appointee Earl Warren (Richard Kiley) galvanizes the Court toward reform and Marshall and his indefatigable team eventually locate their legal ammunition in a constitutional debate led by congressman Thaddeus Stevens in 1865. The Supreme Court unanimously changes the law of the land on December 7, 1953. A historic civil rights battle is given a well-researched presentation here, and while Stevens Jr. ultimately settles for a term-paper drama, passionate performances energize the presentation and humanize the struggle.
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