A nineteenth century schoolteacher is arrested for admitting black children to her private school. Based on a true story. [Dir: Jack Gold/ Mare Winningham, Ben Cross, Robert Desiderio/ 93 min/ Drama/ Government as Bigot, Voluntaryism, Social Tolerance]
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In 1833, more than a hundred years before National Guard troops forced Alabama public schools to provide equal education to black children, at least one private school (in Connecticut) had already done so voluntarily.
The times being what they were, the school’s founder and teacher, Prudence Crandall, gradually lost her white students and supporters as a result. But she nonetheless continued teaching, replacing her white students with the children of well-to-do blacks. It was Crandall’s hope that these students would become teachers themselves and so spread knowledge throughout the black community. However, her hopes were dashed when she was arrested and convicted under Connecticut’s “Black Law,” which forbade the admission of “nonresident” blacks to local schools. A subsequent attempt to reopen the school was met with violence, and Crandall finally gave up.
This film is generally faithful to the facts and makes a good example of the kind of social progress that occurs naturally and voluntarily as the product of the goodwill of ordinary people, until and unless force is allowed to stop it. One wonders how different history might have been if property rights and the free movement of people had been properly upheld so the simple efforts of Crandall and others like her could have been multiplied.
The telling of all this makes for an inspiring historical drama. It has a slight guilt-ridden liberal flavor, but it’s nonetheless worth watching.