Films on Civil Rights



American Blackout

Documentary 2006 NR 92 minutes. In this award-winning indictment of the election process, guerilla journalist Ian Inaba follows the efforts of Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to expose disturbing tactics that systematically disenfranchise black voters and silence dissent. A passionate advocate for civil rights, McKinney calls on all citizens to question the political machinery and protect democracy from the institutionalized racism imperiling the country.See Full Review


Spies of Mississippi

Documentary 2014 TV-PG 52m. In the 1960s, the state of Mississippi formed a secret agency that employed black spies to infiltrate and take down civil rights organizations.  I had heard about the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, but I wasn’t aware it was anything on this scale. 160,000 pages, with insiders traveling all over the US to infiltrate. And then its involvement in the Cheney, Goodman, Schwermer murders. That said, this is an excellent documentary that should be shown in every school in America. Not just as a lesson on racism, but as a lesson about power, how power works, and how power corrupts. This is an important film.

Eyes on the Prize
America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965

Documentary 1987 TV-PG 3 discs.  This Emmy-winning documentary from the PBS “American Experience” series uses newsreel footage and narratives from famous and everyday people to take viewers inside the struggle for civil rights during the crucial years of 1954 through ’65. Among the critical events discussed are the Montgomery bus boycott, the integration of schools in Little Rock, the murder of activists in Mississippi and Martin Luther King’s groundbreaking marches to freedom.

Free at Last
Civil Rights Heroes

Documentary 2004 NR 95 minutes.  Witness the amazing, courageous stories of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, The Birmingham Four, Viola Liuzzo and more. The story of the Civil Rights movement in the United States is usually told through the acts of such charismatic leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., but often the struggle played out in the small acts of peaceful defiance performed by individuals. Hear the stories of those heroic people who helped stir a nation and forge a new path.


Docudrama 2014 PG-13. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, this stirring historical drama highlights the courage of the marchers as they withstand racist and violent attacks by the police.

Freedom Riders

Documentary, American Experience 2009 NR 111 minutes. Based on the award-winning book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, this documentary chronicles the daring and courage activists, black and white, who rode on interstate bus lines through the Southern states to challenge their segregation laws. Directed by Stanley Nelson (The Murder of Emmett Till), the film focuses on how the civil rights campaign was conceived, and how the movement eventually became a major concern for the Kennedy administration. See Full Review

Freedom Song

Docudrama 2000 NR 117 minutes.  Unsung citizens risk their lives to bring change at the grassroots level in this drama about the Civil Rights movement. Set in a fictional Mississippi hamlet, the film is based on eyewitness accounts of activists who stood on history’s front lines.

The Loving Story
(Long Way Home: The Loving Story)

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 17M. This documentary profiles Mildred and Richard Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for breaking Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. This couple fought for what they believed in and as a result a change spread across the nation. Her spirit was so intelligent and motherly and calm. His demeanor was so tough and honest and protective. This story is simply beautiful. A captivating look at the lives of the couple who reluctantly and inadvertently caused the eventual setting aside of the blatant racist laws in 16 states against interracial marriage. The last miscegenation laws was repealed in 2000 in Alabama. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Loving. I would have been proud to be their neighbor, proud have known them. This is a real love story, one man and one woman set the example for the rest to follow. I guess they’re true American heroes we never got to hear about. Amazing story. I do not think I have ever seen a better documentary, one that has better caught and held my interest.  See Full Review

Home of the Brave

Documentary 2004 NR 1hr 14m. This documentary chronicles the murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, who was killed for participating in a march for black voting rights.  Viola’s death helped pass the Voting Rights act of 1965. This is fascinating documentary about a forgotten woman in the civil rights movement, an amazing story that somehow got lost in time. Among the stories of Dr. King, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks, this story should be told. It reveals how intimately the FBI was involved in her murder, the coverup which followed it, and what happened to Ms. Liuzzo’s reputation at the hands of the FBI in the aftermath of her killing. Moving, inspiring, distressing, this movie unseats any vestige of trust in our government’s respect for human life and rights. Well-done documentary about people who were at ground zero of the civil rights movement. Bravo to all concerned that her heroism has seen the light of day! I believe this is something that can and should be shown to schoolchildren, a memorial to a woman who gave her life for what she believed in, and who should not be forgotten.

The Road to Freedom
The Vernon Johns Story

Docudrama 1994 NR 90 minutes.  Spurred to action when two parishioners are brutally attacked in racially motivated incidents, church deacon Vernon Johns uses his power and charisma to begin the battle for equality that will reverberate for decades. James Earl Jones delivers a tour-de-force performance as Johns, who’s now celebrated as the father of the civil rights movement. Mary Alice, Joe Seneca, Clifton James and Cissy Houston co-star in this inspiring true story.

The Murder of Emmett Till

Documentary American Experience 2003 NR 53 minutes.  This PBS “American Experience” documentary examines the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his killers. Considered a catalyst for America’s civil rights movement, Till’s death sent shock waves throughout the world. While visiting the Deep South, Till whistled at a white woman, an act which led to his brutal killing. Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her mangled son. See Full Review

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till

Documentary 2005 PG-13 70 minutes.  When he visited family in Mississippi in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till never imagined he wouldn’t be coming home. But that was before he met Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who savagely beat and killed the boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This absorbing documentary from director Keith Beauchamp ultimately moved the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen the case in 2005, 50 years after the crime.

The Rosa Parks Story

Docudrama 2002 NR 90 minutes.  Angela Bassett stars in the story that sparked the birth of the modern civil rights movement in the late 1950s. Parks took the only available seat in the first row of the “colored” section on a city bus. But when a white woman boarded and the driver demanded that the black riders in her row move, everyone complied except Parks. This singular event threw Parks and her family into the Ku Klux Klan’s ring of hatred — and into the NAACP’s limelight.

Howard Zinn
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Documentary 2004 NR 78 minutes.   Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn’s commitment to social change through archival materials, commentary from Zinn and interviews with contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker, among others.

4 Little Girls

Documentary 1997 NR 102 minutes. Director Spike Lee uses this feature-length documentary to tell the story of the 1963 bombing of an Alabama African-American church — an event that took the lives of four young girls and became a pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle. Lee’s film examines the crime and its perpetrators as well as the four young victims (as described by friends and families). It also includes interviews with noted civil rights activists and journalists.

Martin Luther King, Jr: I Have a Dream

Documentary 1986 NR 25 minutes.  Relive one of the seminal moments in the history of the Civil Rights movement with these fascinating excerpted clips from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. In addition to King’s most famous address, this compilation also includes the last speech he delivered before his tragic assassination, as well as footage of the beautiful eulogy delivered by friend Bobby Kennedy.

King  (1978)

Docudrama Miniseries 1978 NR 2 discs.  Nominated for nine Emmy Awards, this acclaimed 1978 miniseries chronicles the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of his work as a civil rights leader. Starring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Ossie Davis, the film paints an intimate portrait of King’s public and personal life. Extras include two documentaries, a conversation with Tony Bennett and director Abby Mann and a making-of featurette.

King  (2008)

Documentary 2008 NR 94 minutes.  An insightful look into the life and legacy of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., this Tom Brokaw-hosted program digs deep to reveal King’s true personality through interviews with those who knew him as well as contemporary figures. In addition to comments from former President Bill Clinton, Forest Whitaker and Chuck D., civil rights advocates such as Andy Young and Harry Belafonte contribute moving testimonials.

Citizen King

Documentary American Experience 2004 NR 120 minutes.  A little-known chapter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life — his last five years, during which he spoke out against the Vietnam War and became an advocate for all of America’s have-nots, regardless of race — is the subject of this documentary. Much is known of his tireless efforts as a civil rights leader, but this film focuses on King’s later work — which actually caused some to accuse him of abandoning his original mission.

Mississippi Burning

Docudrama 1988 R 126 minutes. When two civil rights workers and an African American boy disappear in 1964 Mississippi, two FBI agents with divergent investigative styles move in on a beautician who knows the truth about the local Ku Klux Klan’s actions. Mississippi Burning is an immensely powerful film about the real life investigation of the murder of three civil rights workers in the 1960s.

Murder in Mississippi

Docudrama 1989 NR 97 minutes.  Blair Underwood, Jennifer Grey and Oscar nominee Tom Hulce star in this made-for-television film that centers on the 1964 slaying of civil rights workers at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Hulce plays Northern activist Mickey Schwerner, a well-off young Jewish man targeted by the Klan for his unwavering dedication to the pursuit of civil rights and equality for black Americans.

Ghosts of Mississippi

Docudrama 1996 PG-13 130 minutes.  Decades after two hung juries cleared white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith (Oscar nominee James Woods) in the 1963 shooting death of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers, assistant district attorney Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin) reopens the case to bring the man to justice. With support from Evers’s widow (Whoopi Goldberg), DeLaughter is determined to take down the murderer. Virginia Madsen co-stars in this drama based on the true 1994 trial.

An American Tragedy

Documentary American Experience 2000 NR 90 minutes. When two white women accused nine black teenagers of raping them on an Alabama train in 1931, their claims set off a chain reaction that eventually reached the Supreme Court — and launched the modern-day Civil Rights movement. Shot over five years on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, this fascinating installment of the “American Experience” series dissects the particulars of the case through the words of those who lived it.See Full Review


Children of Internment

Documentary 2014 86 min. Thousands of German families were interned by the United States during World War 2. (It is a common misperception that only Japanese-Americans were interned during WW2.) This wartime internment of German-Americans remains generally unknown to most Americans — and largely overlooked by historians. Nearly 11,000 German “aliens” were interned and tens of thousands more suffered illegal searches and seizures, relocation, harassment, interrogation, family separation, deportation and repatriation to Germany. All immigrants to the USA are labelled “aliens” until they learn English and pass tests to become US “citizens”. Many immigrants after the end of World War One took the steps to become US “citizens”, but many others remained technically classified as “aliens”, perhaps too busy trying to earn a living to learn English and pass the citizenship tests. So this group of new Americans were technically still citizens of Germany, and these “aliens” unprotected by the US Constitution could be interned for no good reason.  See Full Review



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