Nothing But a Man

by Stuart Elliott

A 1964 movie about an African-American man who wants to be treated as “Nothing but a Man”  was not a commercial hit, but it has been included in the National Film Registry. It is movie which labor and racial justice activists, as well as film buffs, will enjoy.  At first glance,  it might not seem a labor movie like “The Inheritance” or “Salt of the Earth.”, but consider how the movie title resonates with the “I am a Man” slogan of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation workers strike.

Tom Weiner on describes Nothing But a Man as “the first dramatic story featuring a largely black cast created for an integrated audience (the work of black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux was intended for audiences who patronized black-only theaters). White filmmakers Michael Roemer and Robert M. Young traveled through the South in 1962 in search of ideas for a fiction feature set during the growing turbulence of the civil rights era.”

Duff Anderson, played by Ivan Dixon, is a young care-free railroad section crew worker, who meets Josie Dawson, played by Abby Lincoln, a beautiful young school teacher and daughter of a preacher. A romance develops, followed by marriage. Duff quits the railroad and gets a job at a saw mill. Duff and Josie have his former crew mates to dinner, where Duff complains that the African Americans at the mill are intimidated by their white bosses and fellow workers.

At work, Duff is confronted in the locker room by his boss. (At 4:52 in the clip.)

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