By Right of Birth

By Right of BirthDetails
Year of Release:  1921
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Black & White
Studio:  Lincoln Motion Picture Co.
Director:  Harry Gant

Clarence Brooks (Philip Jones), Anita Thompson (Juanita Cooper/Helen Childers), Webb King (Pinky Webb), Beatrice George (Mary Childers, a/k/a Mother Agnes), Lester Bates (Frank Cooper), Lew Meehan (Manuel Romero), Minnie Provost (Minnie Childers), Grace Ellenwood (Geraldine Cooper).

Frank Cooper, a wealthy retired rancher, and his wife Geraldine adopt Juanita Cooper, believing she is of Native American ancestry.  Juanita becomes friends with African-American law student, Philip Jones.  Meanwhile, Geraldine backs a scheme by stockbroker, Manuel Romero, to acquire valuable Oklahoma oil leases belonging to Freedmen, former black slaves of Indian owners, and their descendants.  Many of these Freedmen are unaware that the land allotted to them by the government contains oil. Romero learns about land belonging to Helen Childers, the missing granddaughter of an aged Native American woman, Minnie Childers.  Minnie’s son married a Freedwoman, and Minnie has not heard from the family since they left Oklahoma for California long ago.

Geraldine goes to California and does some snooping with Romero’s chauffeur, Pinky Webb, a correspondence school detective.  They learn that Juanita is actually Helen Childers and that after her birth her father was killed in an accident.  Frank rescued baby Helen but never found the baby’s mother.  Upon learning of her heritage, Juanita a/k/a Helen, leaves home and goes to California.  Mother Agnes, a matron who devotes her life to helping homeless black girls, befriends Juanita.  Philip, now an up-and-coming attorney, meets Juanita again and actively pursues a friendship with her, as race is no longer a factor in their relationship.  Romero locates Juanita and tricks her into signing a lease for her land.

Meanwhile Minnie arrives in California to look for her son and hires Philip as a legal adviser.  When Philip learns of Romero’s scheme, they get into a fight and Romero is killed in an automobile chase.  Philip then discovers that Mother Agnes is actually Juanita’s birth mother.  The family has a happy reunion, where Juanita introduces Mother Agnes to Frank, and Juanita, “by right of birth,” acquires her fortune.


The Daily Herald praised the company for making the film “free from racial propaganda such as has been characteristic in several similar productions attempted by other concerns.”  The Examiner stated, “Every detail of the plot supports the theme partly expressed in the title — the right of the transplanted race to a little pride of its own.”

TCM; Poster Source:  Duke University Library

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