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Within Our Gates

(silent 1920 b 79')

En: 4 Ed: 5

Written and directed by Oscar Micheaux, a black schoolteacher from the South goes to the North to raise money for a school and returns to violent conflict.

Schoolteacher Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) visits her cousin Alma Prichard (Flo Clements) in the North. Sylvia gets a letter from her fiancé Conrad Drebert (James D. Ruffin) in Brazil. Sylvia tells Larry Prichard (Jack Chenault) that she is engaged. Detective Philip Gentry (William Smith) gets a letter from a police chief advising him to watch Larry Prichard.

A crooked card game results in shooting. Sylvia realizes that in her dream Larry killed a man. Conrad arrives, and Alma arranges it so that he sees Sylvia with a man. He chokes her, but Alma stops him.

In the South the Rev. Wilson Jacobs and his sister Constance operate a school for Negroes. Sylvia answers their ad. They say the school needs money to stay open, and Sylvia goes north to raise funds.

Dr. Vivian (Charles D. Lucas) sees a man snatch Sylvia's purse in Boston and catches him, and a cop arrests him. Dr. Vivian talks with Sylvia. The car of Mrs. Elena Warwick (Mrs. Evelyn) hits Sylvia. In the hospital Mrs. Warwick tells Sylvia to visit her. At home Mrs. Warwick tells Sylvia that she will help her race. Mrs. Warwick asks the southerner Mrs. Geraldine Stratton (Bernice Ladd) for advice, but she opposes education for Negroes. She says giving $5,000 to the school would be a waste. Mrs. Stratton suggests that she give $100 to the preacher Ned instead. In his church Ned says that money was stolen from the collection plate. Ned tells whites that blacks should keep in their place, though he knows he is wrong. Sylvia goes to Mrs. Warwick. Dr. Vivian reads that all humans are equal. Mrs. Warwick tells Mrs. Stratton that she will give the school $50,000.

Sylvia goes back to the school. Larry goes south too and threatens to expose Sylvia's past. When Larry goes back north, Alma warns him. Dr. Vivian looks for Sylvia. Larry shoots Philip Gentry and is fatally wounded. Dr. Vivian meets Alma, who tells him of Sylvia's past.

Sylvia studies at home with her parents. She tells Jasper Landry to keep accounts so that Philip Gridlestone (Ralph Johnson) won't cheat him. A poor white man cheated by Gridlestone shoots him from a window, but Efram (E. G. Tatum) says that Jasper did it. The blacks run to the swamps, and Efram shows whites the evidence. They shoot the real killer by mistake. A mob hangs Efram and shoots at blacks. Armand Gridlestone (Grant Gorman) finds Sylvia and struggles to rape her. Dr. Vivian explains that Armand saw a scar on her chest and realized that she is his daughter. In the final scene Dr. Vivian tells Sylvia that he wants to marry her.

This racial drama was so controversial that theater owners were afraid to show it after the race riots of 1919. Northern society is contrasted to the brutality and more overt racism of the South. Some African-Americans struggle to gain education while others are mollified by a cowardly preacher.

Copyright © 2006 by Sanderson Beck

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