The complexity of human nature played out in a house located in Tatesville, Georgia. Martha Jane a single mother lived with her only daughter Isabelle. It seemed that Isabelle was smitten with Sylvester a man with little means to support her. The problem Martha Jane faced how to discourage the match between the two of them. Being the hard working woman that she was, she washed and ironed clothes for a living. She managed to save enough money for Isabelle to have a proper married life. She wanted something better for her daughter.
Honesty or the lack of it became what an escaped prisoner had in mind when he posed as the Reverend Isaiah T. Jenkins. He realized that as a head pastor of a church. It gave him access to the offerings left by the church members as well as a place to hide from the law. To someone like Martha Jane, the Reverend became the ideal man for her daughter. On his downtime, the Reverend visited his two friends a jail-mate named Yallo Curley Hines and a speak-easy proprietor. Whenever they got together, liquor, cards and money changed hands.
The black males portrayed in the movie showed two different sides. Sylvester the Reverend’s twin brother was an educated man wanting to make something of himself with his discovery. While the Reverend, he obtained income by extortion, blackmail and theft. The women Martha Jane and Isabelle displayed the universal conflict between a mother and her daughter.
Tatesville in the black side of town forged a community surrounded by a church. It had the usual collection of deacons, church ladies and Martha Jane as the Reverend’s biggest backer. Until a dalliance with her daughter, it changed the course of things to come. To his dismay, the Reverend faced a dilemma where his infectious charm turned sour. The heart-break and guilt Isabelle suffered that made her leave home that left Martha Jane devastated. A turn of events and a complicated dream sequence played out toward the movie’s ending.
The movie almost was not approved by the New York Commission. It had to be edited twice because of inciting crime, immoral and sacrilegious behaviors. Finally, Oscar Micheaux’s movie made production. White audiences at that time were not aware of the film’s existence. The movie pandered to black only audiences.
The brilliant acting by Paul Robeson, he played the dual roles of the Reverend Jenkins, and Sylvester. Mercedes Gilbert played Martha Jane and Isabelle was played by Julia Theresa Russell. The film was almost lost. However, the re-edited version was part of The New York Film Festival in the year two thousand. The film’s storyline transcended across all boundaries because of its similarity to the human condition.
By Carol A Hill
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