Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Intruder in the Dust


A black man is arrested for shooting a white man in the back, in Oxford, Mississippi. The question “Did he do it?” is never even asked, not even by the man who is going to be defending him. Not only is he black, he is uppity. The whole town gathers for the great fun of the lynching. Will they hang him, or burn him alive? Will the sheriff resist, or just throw open the cell doors? Get your cotton candy, get your lemonade, can’t enjoy the lynching without a nice hot dog! Only the sheriff does look into it, urged on by a young white and a young black man, and finds the man was killed by someone else’s gun …

This is based on William Faulkner’s famous novel, and it’s pretty good. Not a lot of positive portrayals of black people in the movies in 1949. This one has no big names, which was probably a good idea, since otherwise they might have felt it necessary to pump up the defense lawyer into more of a hero than he is. What astonishes me is that the whole thing really was filmed in Mississippi, and you can be sure they didn’t fly extras in from Hollywood. It’s happening in the present day, and apparently the good folks of Oxford were only too happy to portray a sullen, ignorant, bloodthirsty mob out to take an innocent life. You can be damn sure that many of the faces you see in the film were out shouting “nigger” at and spitting on and beating up civil rights protesters just a few years later. Who knows? Maybe the scum who bombed the black churches and killed Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were there. These people should be ashamed of themselves, and of their community. I just don’t get it.