The Symbol of the Unconquered

a/k/a The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the Ku Klux Klan
a/k/a The Wilderness Trail


Year of Release:  1920
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:   54 mins. (TCM print)
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Film Corporation
Producer:  Oscar Micheaux
Director:  Oscar Micheaux

Iris Hall (Eve Mason)
Walker Thompson (Hugh Van Allen)
Lawrence Chenault (Jefferson Driscoll)
Mattie Wilkes (Mother Driscoll)
Louis Déan (August Barr)
Leigh Whipper (Tugi an Indian Fakir)
E.G. Tatum (Abraham)
George Catlin (Dick Mason)
Jim Burris
James Burrough


Eve arrives in townEve Mason, a light-skinned Black woman, leaves Selma, Alabama for the northwest town of Oristown to claim the land and small house she inherited upon the death of her grandfather.  A fatigued Eve arrives at the Driscoll Hotel, which is owned by Jefferson Driscoll, another very light-skinned Black who wants to pass for White.  Driscoll hates the Negro race because his darker skinned mother once interfered with his wooing a White woman.  In spite of her light skin, Driscoll realizes Eve is Black as “her eyes betray her origins” and refuses to give her a room, instead he leads her to the barn where he has allowed Abraham, another potential guest who Driscoll refused to rent a room to because of the color of his skin.  During the night Eve is frightened by Abraham and flees the barn into the pouring rain.  The next day she meets kindly Hugh Van Allen, a young, Black prospector who has recently arrived in Oristown.  Hugh gives Eve a lift

It turns out Van Allen is her neighbor and he offers Eve a lift to her place outside of town.   A White couple, Mary and August Barr, are also neighbors of Van Allen and Eve.  August Barr is a former clergyman turned swindler and “a man of dubious financial schemes.”  Barr is in cahoots with his brother-in-law and an Indian fakir named Tugi to get back documents stolen by “half-breed Indian,” Philip Clark and which were then taken by an old Black prospector, believed to be Dick Mason, Eve’s grandfather.  The three determine that the documents are in Mason’s old cabin, where Eve is now living.

Someone is watching EveThat night Eve sees a terrible face looking in on her and cries out in fear.  Van Allen hears her and rushes to the rescue, but the intruder has gone.  Meanwhile Driscoll has sold his hotel and gets involved with horse thieves, Philip Clark and old Bill Stanton.  When he tries to pass off two stolen nags as thoroughbreds to Van Allen, the two get into a fight at the local bar and Van Allen beats up Driscoll to the amusement of the bar patrons.  Humiliated, Driscoll vows revenge.Hugh and Driscoll fight

Eve with Van Allen’s assistance, works hard to make the most of her modest homestead.  Mary Barr, August’s unhappy wife, and Eve soon become friends.  In town, Driscoll intercepts a letter meant for Van Allen which states that his land sits on an oil field.  Driscoll, in league with Barr and Tugi, men plot to get Van Allen’s valuable land.  They decide to get old Bill Stanton involved, as he knows how to make people do things they don’t want to do.

Warnings from the Black CrossThey post notes signed by The Knights of the Black Cross on Van Allen’s tent, threatening his life if he won’t sell his land.  Van Allen ignores the notes, leaves for town to buy furniture and won’t be back for 48 hours. In his absence, the last note is posted, giving him 48 hours to sell.

The Black Cross gatherThe group, led by Bill Stanton, plan a midnight attack and Stanton tells the others, “in one hour we will have driven him mad and burned him in his lair.”  Barr’s wife Mary, upset by the planned massacre, goes to warn Eve, who rides to town for help, just as Van Allen returns, unaware of the impending attack.

At this point footage is missing from the print.  Title cards state “the biggest moments of the photoplay are when the night riders are annihilated, a colored man with bricks being a big factor.”

Two years pass and Van Allen, having escaped death by a miracle, has become an oil king as his land was found to contain abundant oil fields.  One day Eve appears at his office to deliver a letter from the Committee for the Defense of the Colored Race, informing Van Allen that he “may give Eve his contribution without fear as she has rendered a great service to the cause of the Black race; despite her white skin, she is born of black parents”.  Bewildered, Van Allen had always believed that Eve was White and had never declared his love for fear of being scornfully rejected.

Eve believes she has fallen

He becomes emotional and Eve, misinterpreting his mood, believes she has now fallen in his esteem.

Eventually they resolve the misunderstanding and live happily ever after.

Eve is wrong


Opening title card states:  The Symbol of the Unconquered has been restored by the Museum of Modern Art – Department of Film and Video and Turner Classic Movies in cooperation with The Oscar Micheaux Society.

Micheaux’s fourth feature length film and one of his earliest surviving works.

Shot in Fort Lee, NJ under the working title The Wilderness Trail.

Sources:  Turner Class Movies; IMDB; YouTube.

The Scar Of Shame

The Scar of Shame -Title Card

Year of Release: 1927
Genre: Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 68 mins.
Black & White
Studio: Colored Players Film Corporation
Producer: David Starkman
Director: Frank Perugini

Harry Henderson (Alvin Hillyard)
Norman Johnstone (Eddie Blake)
Ann Kennedy (Lucretia Green)
Lucia Lynn Moses (Louise Howard)
William E. Pettus (Spike Howard)
Lawrence Chenault (Ralph Hathaway)
Pearl McCormick (Alice Hathaway)

FOREWARD:  Environment, surroundings, childhood training and companions often is the deciding factor in our lives  It shapes our destinies and guides our ambitions.  If early in life some knowing, loving hand lights the lamp of knowledge and with tender care keeps it burning, then our course will run true ’til the end of our useful time on this earth, but if that lamp should fail through lack of loving hands to tend its hungry flame then will come sorrow and SHAME!


The Scar of Shame - Spike attacks LouiseOne afternoon at Mrs. Lucretia Green’s boardinghouse, Alvin Hillyard, a struggling young composer, witnesses a drunken man abusing a young woman in the tenement yard next door. He saves the girl, Louise Howard, then carries her to the boardinghouse, where Mrs. Green comforts her. Mrs. Green offers Louise a room in exchange for helping around the house, hoping to keep her safe from her violent, drunkard stepfather Spike. Meanwhile, Eddie Blake, a saloon owner and another one of Mrs. Green’s boarders, encourages Spike to drink and then tries to drag Louise back to her father as he wants to hire the girl, to whom he is attracted, as an entertainer in his seedy club. Alvin once again intervenes, and Mrs. Green tells Eddie to pack his bags while Alvin vows to teach the lout how to have respect for “our” women.

LaThe Scar of Shame - Eddie and Spike discuss Louiseter, at a saloon, Spike and Eddie discuss Louise, and Spike tells Eddie to leave the girl alone, blaming his own violence on the alcohol that Eddie has given him.  Eddie proceeds to push alcohol on the susceptible Spike, and after he has become thoroughly inebriated, he goes to Louise’s room and tries to grab her. Alvin rescues Louise once again and then decides that he will marry her so that she will finally be safe. Three months later, Spike, in a state of alcohol withdrawal, begs Eddie for a drink, and Eddie says he will serve him only if he helps kidnap Louise and set up a cabaret in another town, where with her looks and his brains they will make a killing. The pair send a fake telegram calling Alvin away to his sick mother’s bedside. As Alvin packs to leave, Louise offers to accompany him, but Alvin confesses that he has never told his class-conscious mother about their marriage.

The Scar of Shame - Alvin tells Louise she is not of his classAlvin leaves as Spike watches the house, and Louise, distraught, ruins a photo of Alvin’s mother and then discovers and tears up letters in which the matron mentions her hopes that Alvin will marry a young woman of their own class. Her final acts of defiance are to remove her wedding ring and tear up her marriage license. Eddie enters Louise’s room and asks her to join him in a business deal in another town. Louise agrees, provided their relationship remains strictly business. Alvin discovers the trick played upon him once he arrives at his mother’s home. He returns to the boardinghouse but having lost his house key, breaks into his and Louise’s room through a window.

The Scar of Shame - Louise is woundedThe Scar of Shame - Alvin is convictedFinding Eddie with Louise, Alvin pulls a gun on the pair. The two men fire their guns, and when the police arrive, they find Louise unconscious and wounded.



Alvin is convicted of assault based on Louise’s testimony, and the girl is left with a disfiguring scar on her neck. Two years later, Alvin escapes from prison and becomes a successful music teacher under the name “Arthur Jones” in the same city where Louise and Eddie have set up the chic gambling club, Club Lido.

The Scar of Shame - Alvin falls in love with his star pupilAlvin begins to fall in love with his star music pupil, Alice Hathaway, but does not declare his feelings because of his past.  One day, her father, Ralph Hathaway, a wealthy lawyer, receives a call from Louise inviting him to come to a “whoopie” party at the club, of which Hathaway is the sponsor and protector. When a letter is left for Hathaway, Alice, now engaged to Alvin, asks her fiancé to bring it down to the club. Alvin is shocked when he is introduced to Louise. The Scar of Shame - Louise tries to seduce AlvinLouise blackmails Alvin into dancing with her in front of Hathaway, and then later into coming to visit her at her home. When he arrives, she tries to seduce him, then confesses that she has always loved him.  Alvin rejects her and leaves.  Distraught and hopeless, Louise writes a letter to Hathaway, which she asks her maid to deliver. Then she begs God’s forgiveness and drinks poison. The Scar of Shame - No one can help Louise

The maid calls Hathaway to come to Louise’s side as she is dying. In the meantime, Alvin, having confessed all to Alice, tries to comfort her. Hathaway arrives with Louise’s letter and Alvin finally learns the truth, that it was Eddie who had actually shot Louise that night.

Alice and her future husband, now exonerated, embrace.

The Scar of Shame - The End

Scar of Shame was a statement on the class and color caste system that existed within the African-American community.

Sources: Turner Classic Movies; A Separate Cinema: Fifty Years of Black Cast Posters.

Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates

Year of Release:  1920
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:  79 mins.
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Film Co.
Producer:  Oscar Micheaux
Director:  Oscar Micheaux

Evelyn Preer (Sylvia Landry)
Flo Clements (Alma Prichard)
James D. Ruffin (Conrad Drebert)
Jack Chenault (Larry Prichard)
William Smith (Philip Gentry, a detective)
Charles D. Lucas (Dr. V. Vivian)
Bernice Ladd (Mrs. Geraldine Stratton)
William Starks (Jasper Landry)
Ralph Johnson (Philip Griddlestone)
E. G. Tatum (Efrem)
Grant Edwards (Emil)


Sylvia Landry, a young black woman from the South, visits her Northern cousin, divorcee Alma Prichard.  Sylvia’s fiancé, Conrad Drebert, writes to her from Brazil, where he is working, to tell her that he will send a telegram with the date of his arrival.  When the telegram arrives, Alma, who is in love with Conrad, intercepts and destroys it.  When Conrad arrives, Alma sets up Sylvia to be seen with another man.

Within Our Gates - Sylvia and Alma

Within Our Gates - Conrad tries to kill Sylvia

Enraged, Conrad tries to strangle her, but she is saved by Alma. Conrad storms out and breaks their engagement, much to Alma’s satisfaction.  Saddened by the breakup, Sylvia leaves town and takes a job at a school for poor black children in the southern town of Piney Woods, that is run by Reverend Wilson Jacobs and his sister Constance. When money troubles hit the establishment, however, Sylvia decides to go to Boston to find a rich benefactor. One day, depressed that she has not met any rich people to take an interest in the school’s plight, Sylvia saves a little boy from being struck by the car of rich philanthropist Elena Warwick, and is herself injured. Mrs. Warwick visits her in the hospital and Sylvia tells her that the school must find $5,000 in the next ten days or it will close.

Within Our Gates - Mrs. Warwick offers trhe school money

Mrs. Warwick is set to give the school the money until she speaks with her friend, Mrs. Geraldine Stratton, who convinces the naïve Mrs. Warwick that educating blacks is a mistake, and that they are more suited to being field hands and lumberjacks. She suggests giving the money to Old Ned, a black preacher whose fiery sermons encourage blacks to remain “pure” and untainted by education, culture and politics.

Within Our Gates - Blacks don't want an education

When Sylvia returns to collect the school’s money from Mrs. Warwick, she is refused, but later, Mrs. Warwick changes her mind and sends the school fifty-thousand dollars.thousand dollars. Sylvia returns to Piney Woods, where Jacobs proposes. Sylvia refuses the offer, however, as she has fallen in love with Doctor V. Vivian, a young Boston man deeply committed to improving blacks’ social conditions.

Within Our Gates - Sylvia and Dr. V. Vivian
Meanwhile, Larry, Alma’s stepbrother, a notorious gangster, flees police after killing another gambler in a card game. He escapes to Piney Woods and plans to swindle the poor blacks in the region by selling them stolen goods. Larry eventually encounters Sylvia, with whom he was once in love, and tells her that he will reveal her past to the school’s administrators if she does not steal the school’s money for him.

Within Our Gates - Larry threatens SylviaDistraught, Sylvia returns to Boston. Larry, meanwhile, has also gone back North and is shot while trying to rob a bank. When Dr. Vivian goes to the Prichards’ to tend Larry’s wounds, he meets Alma, who tells him about Sylvia’s past.

Flashback:  Sylvia was adopted by the Landrys, a family of poor black southerners.  When she was a young girl, the Landrys sent Sylvia to school, and the educated girl eventually discovered that her father’s landlord and employer, Philip Griddlestone, owed him $625.00. Armed with his daughter’s calculations, Mr. Landry goes to see Griddlestone, who rudely dismisses him. At that moment, a white laborer whom Griddlestone had earlier swindled, enters the room and shoots Griddlestone.  Efrem, Griddlestone’s gossipy, meddlesome servant, screams through the town’s streets that Mr. Landry murdered his employer. A lynch mob is formed and the Landrys run away, taking refuge in the swamps. The manhunt continues for a week, and, frustrated that the Landrys had eluded them, the mob attacks and kills the traitorous Efrem, who had been gloating about how much the whites loved him.  Mr. and Mrs. Landry and their young son Emil are captured.  The parents are hanged and burned at the stake, but Emil escapes.  Meanwhile, the real killer is accidentally shot by the mob.  Griddlestone’s brother, Armand, follows Sylvia back to the home of her parents’ friends. Armand attacks Sylvia and tries to rape her, but sees a scar on her breast and suddenly realizes that Sylvia is his own daughter from his union with a black woman.  Armand then pays for the girl’s education but never tells Sylvia that he is her father.

Within Our Gates - Armand attacks SylviaIn the present, Dr. Vivian finds a distraught Sylvia and tells her that they must remember that their people fought in Cuba, Mexico and France for the freedom of their great country. Confident that once married Sylvia will be an excellent wife and a confirmed patriot, Dr. Vivian is not disappointed.


Within Our Gates was Oscar Micheaux’s earliest surviving directorial effort.

Within Our Gates stirred up considerable controversy during its original release because it contained scenes of lynching and racial conflict.  At first the film, which eventually had its premiere in Chicago, was rejected by the Chicago Board of Movie Censors who were afraid the movie could possibly inspire a race riot. However, a second screening of the film by the press, Chicago politicians, and prominent members of the Black community convinced the Censors to grant the film a permit since it addressed horrendous conditions that needed reform.  Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however, and some of the most vigorous protesters against the film were black activists.  By June 1920, the film was edited down, with much of its controversial material removed.

Within Our Gates - the end

Sources:  Turner Classic Movies

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