Birthright (1939)

A Story Of The Negro And The South

Year of Release:   1938
Genre:   Drama
Rating:  N/A
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Pictures Corporation
Director:  Oscar Micheaux


Carman Newsome, Laura Bowman, S. O. Moses, Alec Lovejoy, Trixie Smith, Hazel Lisz, W. Herbert Jelly, Ida Forsyne, John Ward, C. R. Chace, Alice B. Russell, H. E. Knight, George Vessey, Columbus Jackson, Harry Moses, Tom Dillon, Allen Lee, Robert Alderdice.


Harvard University graduate Peter Siner is trying to raise money to start a school for blacks. On his way to Hookers Bend, his hometown in the South, Peter encounters his friend Tump Pack, a decorated war hero and a gambler.  Soon Peter attracts the attention of every eligible girl in town, including Cissie Dildane. Although Cissie pledges a contribution to fund Peter’s school, she tells him that she disagrees with his approach to bettering the condition of blacks through industrial training, and instead favors literacy education.

Peter purchases an old building from the unscrupulous white banker Henry Hooker, but eventually learns that Hooker has been scheming against him and trying to thwart his efforts to establish a black school in the area. When Peter takes a closer look at the contract he signed, he realizes that it contains a “stopper clause” preventing blacks from having anything to do with the property. He complains to Hooker, who offers to buy back the deed at a fraction of the original purchase price.

Following the death of his mother, Peter goes to work for the town’s richest man, Captain Renfrew.  Renfrew’s maid resents having to serve Peter as if he were a white man and lies to Renfrew, by telling him that Peter plans to marry Cissie, who, she claims, is a suspected thief. The sheriff arrests Cissie, however, she escapes and goes to a nightclub, where her sister, Ida May is performing.  When Peter arrives at the nightclub, he gets a telegram stating that Renfrew has died and left everything to him, including 90% ownership in the bank where Hooker works. He also reads that charges against Cissie have been dropped.

Peter develops plans to turn Renfrew’s mansion into an industrial training school.   After successfully establishing his school, he marries Cissie, and the couple drive to Chicago for their honeymoon.


From the novel by T. S. Stribling.

Oscar Micheaux made an earlier film based on the same source in 1924.

The first two of the film’s nine reels have been missing for years. To replace about 20 minutes of the missing scenes, restorers have added new title cards to introduce the story of Peter Siner.


TCM; Poster Source:

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