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56 minutes, 1990 Producer/Director/Writer: William Elwood, Director: Mykola Kulish, Senior Producer: Larry Adelman, Sponsor: University of Virginia
ABOUT THE FILM
2009 marks the 55th anniversary of Brown v. Board. Available now on DVD!
The Road to Brown tells the story of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling as the culmination of a brilliant legal assault on segregation that launched the Civil Rights movement. It is also a moving and long overdue tribute to a visionary but little known black lawyer, Charles Hamilton Houston, "the man who killed Jim Crow."
The Road to Brown plunges us into the nightmare world of Jim Crow that robbed former slaves of the rights granted by the 14th and 15th Amendments. Under the "separate but equal" doctrine of the Supreme Court's 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, black citizens were denied the right to vote, to attend white schools, to get sick in white hospitals or to be buried in white cemeteries. Those who objected were liable to be lynched.
Charles Houston, the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, dean of Howard University Law School and chief counsel to the NAACP, launched a number of precedent-setting cases leading up to Brown v. Board of Education. He strategically targeted segregated education as the key to undermining the entire Jim Crow system.
Interviews with his associates recount how Houston, eschewing the limelight himself, energized a generation of black jurists including future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to wage the struggle against segregation. He taught: "A lawyer is either a social engineer or he is a parasite on society."
Houston died of a heart attack in 1950, just four years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision validated his strategy. In a moving climax, the film recapitulates the arguments before the Court, Justice Warren's opinion striking down Plessy, and the jubilant reactions of black America. Other legal victories followed.
But Charles Houston had warned, “There’s a difference between law on the books and the law in action.” We witness how it was the civil rights movement, organized in the wake of Brown, that gave teeth to the new laws.
Moving from slavery to civil rights, The Road to Brown provides a concise history of how African-Americans finally won full legal equality under the Constitution. Its depiction of the interplay between race, law and history adds a crucial dimension to courses in U.S. History, Black Studies, Constitutional Law, Law & Society, Social Movements and Government. It opens up a discussion of the true significance of the Brown v. Board decision on the path towards racial equality. The example of Charles Houston's persistence and determination will inspire today's students to take America further down the long road to social justice.
Chapter Listing 1. Opening Credits & Prologue 2. Plessy and the Era of Jim Crow 3. The Man Who Would Kill Jim Crow 4. The Strategy Unfolds 5. Final Groundwork 6. Brown vs. Board of Education 7. The Road from Brown 8. Credits
"Charles Houston's legal campaign opened the doors of opportunity for me, my children and countless others...This dramatic portrayal should be seen by every young American. It will help them understand not only the history of the Brown case but the importance of education to us all."
L. Douglas Wilder, former Governor of Virginia
"Enlightening...Makes legal history come alive."
"A moving and most important documentary about the struggle to desegregate the schools. I liked it very, very much."
John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus, Duke University
"A great film, moving and personal...It comes at an important juncture to remind us of a sordid stage in our history which continues to haunt us."
Julius L. Chambers, former Director, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
"Should be used by every teacher of American History and government."
John J. Patrick, Director, Social Studies Development Center
"It would be possible, of course, to cover much the same ground with reading assignments and class discussion, but the educational impact would be less. In a style reminiscent of the much-heralded The Civil War miniseries, The Road to Brown blends together snapshots, news footage, artistic renderings and music of the times; recollection of participants in the litigation struggle; and present-day commentary by judges, historians and others. It reaches the viewer on an affective level, offering to renew the spirit as well as inform the mind...The Road to Brown does as much as a film can do to accurately locate a great case within its historical context, chart its litigation strategy, and vividly present its human dimensions."
Vincent Robert Johnson, Journal of Legal Education
"The Road to Brown recounts a crucial part of America's sad history of racial injustice. It highlights a dedicated and courageous black lawyer, Charles Houston, who started us on the long, still unfinished march to equality."
Jesse Choper, former Dean, Law School, University of California-Berkeley
"A fine video about an important subject...Highly recommended for all libraries."