2020 Paley Archive Elements 3840x1536 Banner2
Continue searching the Collection



This made-for-television movie examines the role of activist preacher Vernon Johns as a trailblazer for the civil rights movement. The story is narrated by JohnsÕs eldest daughter, Baby Dee, as she reminisces about her fatherÕs tumultuous pastorship at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Vernon Johns was a preacher who traveled through the segregated South incorporating a radical cry for racial equality into his Sunday sermons. Because of his dangerous political activism, Johns was never welcomed as a permanent pastor in any church. Therefore, when he was invited to preach in Montgomery, his wife and daughters urged him to take a more moderate approach and settle down with a congregation. Although the deacons at Dexter Avenue immediately offered the pastorship to Johns, it was clear from the start that he was not the traditional preacher they had hoped for. Johns was quick to address the problems he saw in his new congregation, which primarily consisted of those from the professional class who tended to look down on others in the black community. When a local boy from the congregation was murdered by the police, Johns ignored the warnings of his wife and the deacons and took up his mission to fight against racism and segregation. Johns began preaching increasingly radical sermons with titles such as "When the Rapist Is White" and "ItÕs Safe to Murder Negroes," gaining negative attention from white public officials and criticism from the conservative board of deacons. In his personal life, Johns encouraged his family and friends to fight racism with boycotts, black entrepreneurship, and nonobservance of segregation laws. The church leaders responded with warnings and plans to fire Johns, and the white citizens of Montgomery responded with threats of lynching and burning. The situation came to a head when the one deacon who supported JohnsÕs activism decided to take a stand against yet another incident of police brutality. The ensuing chaos and tragedy proved to be too much for the congregation of Dexter Avenue Baptist. Johns was forced to leave the pulpit to his young successor, Martin Luther King, Jr., who mobilized people to act upon the message that Johns had long preached.

Program acquisition courtesy New Amsterdam Entertainment.


  • DATE: January 16, 1994 Sunday 8:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:30:18
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:54409
  • GENRE: Docudrama
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Blacks - History; Blacks - Social conditions; Civil rights - United States; African-American Collection - News/Talk
  • SERIES RUN: WPIX (New York, NY) - TV, 1994


  • Richard P. Rubinstein … Executive Producer
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … Executive Producer
  • David Kappes … Producer
  • Mitchell Galin … Producer
  • Michael Gornick … Associate Producer
  • Kenneth Fink … Director
  • Kevin Arkadie … Writer
  • Leslie Lee … Writer
  • Brian Keane … Music by
  • Taj Mahal … Composer, Theme Music by
  • James Earl Jones … Cast, Vernon Johns
  • Mary Alice … Cast, Altona
  • Joe Seneca … Cast, Deacon Wilkes
  • Tommy Hollis … Cast, Coach Hill
  • Nicole Leach … Cast, Baby Dee
  • Ashanti Blaize … Cast, Enid
  • Lashayla Logan … Cast, Jeanne
  • Clifton James … Cast, Judge Blake
  • Shelby Ware … Cast, Janet Whitcomb
  • Cissy Houston … Cast, Rose
  • Moses Gibson … Cast, Deacon Henderson
  • Billie Allen … Cast, Ida Rawlins
  • Michael Howell … Cast, Reverend Abernathy
  • Justin Young … Cast, the White Teenager
  • Garland Bunting … Cast, the Counterman
  • Sarah Smith … Cast, the Church Lady
  • Beatrice Bush … Cast, Gloria Hill
  • Sam Wells … Cast, the Serviceman
  • Frank Taylor … Cast, the Bus Driver
  • Frederick Strother … Cast, the Black Passenger
  • Timothy Kirkpatrick … Cast, Dr. Brewster
  • Irene Ziegler … Cast, the Admissions Nurse
  • Joe Inscoe … Cast, the Policeman
  • Andy Park … Cast, the Desk Sergeant
  • David Forrester … Cast, the Redneck
  • Eric Ware … Cast, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Continue searching the Collection