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A movie directed by George Stevens Jr.

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A history lesson we all should attend...

  • Oct 8, 2000
Pros: Historically correct, beautifully acted

Cons: None

My 12-year-old daughter and I sat down for an American history lesson this afternoon. Well it was really for her, because I already knew what the America of the 1950’s was like for Black Americans. The 1950’s were not the era of MTV, Rap music, McDonalds happy meals, Palm Pilots, or integrated schools dances. It was the era where the doctrine of “Separate but Equal” was the law of the land.

For those who don’t know, the doctrine of “Separate but Equal” stipulates that facilities for Blacks and Whites can be separate as long as they are equal as per the letter of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This “Separate but Equal” doctrine was established as a result of Plessy v. Ferguson, a 1898 case stemming from railway transportation in the state of Louisiana. The “Separate but Equal” doctrine gave birth to the “Jim Crow” laws of the south; those laws with forbad interracial dating, dinning, co-mingling upon public transport, or in theaters, or on baseball teams. The full list of “Jim Crow” laws spawned by the “Separate but Equal” doctrine is far too long to list here, sufficed to say that in the early 1950’s where this movie takes place, Black Americans were anything but equal before the law!

The movie, which is 198 minutes long, starts in 1950, in Clarendon County, South Carolina. A group of black parents tired of their children having to walk 5-6 miles to and from school everyday while white children ride buses, sue the state of South Carolina in federal court in order to end segregation in the public schools of the state. The local black citizenry invite the NAACP legal defense lawyers headed by Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall, in to represent them. They lose the case in the Federal District Court and appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in turn combines this case to three others from the states of Kansas (Brown v. Board of Education, the office name of the case), Delaware, and Virginia, to form a class action.

The state of South Caroline brings in the foremost legal mind of the time, John W. Davis portrayed by Burt Lancaster, to argue their case before the Supreme Court. The case is argued before the Court, but before it can be decided the Chief Justice dies of a heart attack and is replaced by Earl Warren, played by Richard Kiley. Warren convinces the other members of the Court to join him in a unanimous decision to strike down segregation in the public schools across the nation.

The movie, which is very compelling to watch, and superbly acted, is a highly accurate portrayal of the events surrounding this landmark case. The movie draws the viewer in from the very first frame and keeps the viewer clued until the last. While my daughter drifted at points because she lacked an understanding of the legal and Constitutional underpinnings of the case, she did understand the broad historical and social context the movie was trying to frame.

I recommend Seperate but Equal to anyone who wants not only a better understanding of American history, but an in-depth, historically correct view of a case that changed American history, and had a profound effect on American society. The reverberations from this case can still be felt today, and a better understanding of its historical significance can only better the viewer’s appreciation for the struggle of black Americans and their historical plight to become fully equal citizens before the law, which still continues today!

Primary Cast Members:

Sidney Poitier: Thurgood Marshall
Burt Lancaster: John W. Davis
Richard Kiley: Chief Justice Earl Warren

Release Date: 1991
Genre: Drama
Director: George Stevens Jr.
Running Time: 3:13


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About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #77
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie


The true story of on NAACP lawyer's fight for civil rights. Although slavery has been outlawed for nearly a century, segregation is legal. When the blacks of Clarendon County, South Carolina request a single school bus and are denied by white school officials, a bitter, violent and courageous battle for justice and equality begins.
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Director: George Stevens Jr.
Release Date: 1991
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: Artisan Entertainment (May 20, 2003)
Runtime: 3hr 13min
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