A Lesson for Our Time   Leave a comment

Is there a movie from childhood that still holds a special place with you? (One you saw as a kid, but isn’t necessarily a kid’s film).


1. Link your blog to this hop.

2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.

3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.

4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.

5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

<!– start InLinkz code –>

<div class=”inlinkz-widget” data-uuid=”ad91aa29f6834f238336b5c03e610038″ style=”width:100%;margin:30px 0;background-color:#eceff1;border-radius:7px;text-align:center;font-size:16px;font-family:’Helvetica Neue’,Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif”>

<div style=”padding:8px;”><p style=”margin-bottom:15px;”>You are invited to the <strong>Inlinkz</strong> link party!</p>

<a href=”https://fresh.inlinkz.com/p/ad91aa29f6834f238336b5c03e610038” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow” style=”padding:5px 20px;background:#209cee;text-decoration:none;color:#efefef;border-radius:4px;”>Click here to enter</a></div></div>

<span style=”display: none;”>http://a%20href=</span>

<!– end InLinkz code –>

WordPress shortcode

[fresh_inlinkz_code id=”ad91aa29f6834f238336b5c03e610038″]

Unique URL


Hard Question

Well, first, I was a kid between 1960 and 1978, which was a time in American history where you could generally trust what was on television at all hours of the day or night. I watched a lot of “age-inappropriate” television because my parents controlled the television channels and they figured if it played on television, it wouldn’t harm me. I watched a lot of “adult” films when technically a child.

But if I had to pin down one that had a huge impact on me, it was when In the Heat of the Night came on television when I was in 6th grade. Dad had already seen the noir mystery in the theater back in 1967 and he wanted to watch it with me. Back in 1967, it had been nominated for seven Oscars and won five. By 1972, it was considered a historically- and culturally-significant film. My father’s ex-wife was a Creole and watching this film with me on late-night television was probably among his ongoing efforts to teach me about racism and its corrosive effects.

Alaska outlawed racial discrimination in 1945, so racism was largely an individual thing by the time I was born and not particularly socially acceptable here when I was growing up, but the Civil Rights movement was underway in the Lower 48 and Dad wanted me to understand it. I was 12.


If you’ve been under a rock for 50 years, or are young and think nothing relevant was made before 2000, In the Heat of the Night is a murder mystery set in small-town Mississippi in the 1960s at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

A wealthy man moves to Sparta, Mississippi, to build a factory, but is found dead in the street. A deputy sheriff wrongly arrests a black man for traveling with money, but it turns out he’s a homicide detective from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The detective Tibbs has rightly deduced that Sheriff Gillespie and most of the town are racists, but with encouragement from his Philadelphia supervisor, Tibbs agrees to work on the case. Thus enters the angry black man fighting against angry white racists.

A medical examiner thinks the victim was killed less than an hour before his body was found, but Tibbs thinks the death occurred earlier than that and believes the body was moved after the victim died. Furthermore, he notes the killer was right-handed. So when a left-handed suspect is arrested, Tibbs finds witnesses to confirm his alibi. This creates a lot of animosity with the local police department, but the victim’s wife is impressed, so she insists Tibbs leads the investigation or she’ll stop the construction of a factory meant to be the lifeblood of the community.

There are several suspects that lead to dead-ends, mostly there to show the town is racist and the local police department is inept and subject to jumping to conclusions. Just about every scene has some racial tension in it, usually between Detective Tibbs and Sheriff Gillespie. It’s eventually uncovered that a man desperate to get his girlfriend an illegal abortion robbed the victim and accidentally killed him. None of it had anything to do with racism. It was all about sex and money.

The final scene is Sheriff Gillespie carrying Tibbs’ suitcase to the train station, shaking his hand, and bidding him farewell. Tibbs gives him a friendly smile as the train pulls away. Racial relations have been improved in Sparta, Mississippi, and presumably in Philadelphia as well.

Why It Mattered

My dad made me watch several similarly-themed movies with him around that time. A lot of them didn’t stick very well with me. Having watched, Hurry Sundown and Look Who’s Coming to Dinner since, I think it was because they offered muddled views of either the South or racism. In the Heat of the Night depicted an edgy version of a Southern town that seemed to hate outsiders as much as it hated black people. It reflected the uncertain mood of the era, when white men felt uncomfortable with the new roles black men were taking in society but also were uncomfortable with the greater social mobility of the nation as a whole. It wasn’t so much “oh, look at the horrible racists pitted against the paragon of black people” as an anti-racist story of a white man and a black man working together despite their struggle to understand one another.

During commercial breaks, my dad kept asking me for my interpretation of this movie. He was trying to teach me something. I think I taught him a few things too. I grew up “white” in Alaska, where my mother’s stateside Indian blood didn’t make me an Alaska Native but it also didn’t make me exactly “white”. I don’t really remember counting much as racism growing up. My parents raised me better than that. I encountered a bunch of jerks and jerks had different reasons for being jerks. I knew how to stand up when someone was overtly racist to me or someone else, but I never learned to take offense at what are now called “microaggressions.”

It’s just not worth being angry all the time.

I remember two conversations Dad and I had that night that got pretty intense. My parents allowed me to question them and push back and Dad did later say he was proud of me for moving beyond where he was on the subject.

During the famous scene where Gillespie is mocking Tibbs’ first name, asking him what folks in Philly call him, an annoyed Tibbs says “They call me Mister Tibbs!” Cut to a commercial break and Dad asked me what I thought. “The sheriff is a jerk.” Dad added “A racist jerk.” Well, yeah, but also just a plain jerk. “If he mocked a white man’s name, he’d be a jerk.” I remember Dad being surprised at my observation that not only shouldn’t you do that to a black man, you shouldn’t do it to anyone.

In another scene, a wealthy racist slapped Tibbs for falsely accusing him of murder. Tibbs immediately responded by slapping him back. When Dad saw the film in the theater, there was a mixed bag of murmuring in the audience. Some people objected to the racist slapping Tibbs, while others objected to Tibbs hitting back. Afterward, when he was at a nearby restaurant, he heard people discussing it, agreeing the white man deserved the slap. This was in Anchorage in the middle of the Civil Rights era, in a state that outlawed racial discrimination more than 20 years before. So of course, Dad asked me what I saw–the mixed-race girl who grew up in this largely post-racial environment when the rest of the country was struggling to catch up with us. Remember, I was 12.

Tibbs falsely accused the plantation owner (Endicott) of murder and I could see how his reaction to Endicott’s racism might push him in that direction. There was no real reason to accuse Endicott other than that the man was a racist jerk. I saw the racism of the black hero as just as wrong as the racism of the white sheriff or the racism of the rich white plantation owner.

Dad told me a story about his ex-brother-in-law being slapped in the back of the head by a racist shopowner because he’d been “uppity.” Dad described such a benign behavior that I don’t even remember what Rudy did to get slapped. “Was the shopowner right for that?” Well, no, the shopowner was a racist jerk. “Rudy should have smacked him, Dad.” Of course, in 1943 New Orleans, Rudy risked being imprisoned or lynched for such behavior. In 1967 Hollywood, Sidney Poitier could get away with it because the director told him to hit Larry Gates. Dad’s brother-in-law probably did something ridiculous, like made eye contact with a racist. That’s utterly different than falsely accusing someone of murder. Completely aside from skin color, false accusation is a heinous act that ought to face harsh punishment. A slap is minor in comparison to a false accusation, particularly in a day and age where the death penalty was in view. Arresting someone for a crime they didn’t commit should carry serious consequences.

Speaking of criminal justice reform, which we’re not.

Dad and I agreed to disagree and we went on to enjoy the ending, where the racist sheriff Gillespie changed his mind about Tibbs and the angry black man Tibbs appreciated the sheriff’s friendship. That’s what a post-racial society would look like. Yeah, we’re different and we’re not always going to agree, but that doesn’t really matter because we each have value in society and we learn this by interacting with each other in daily life.

Matured View

As an adult, I now understand why that movie was so important to me personally and to the culture generally.

Tibbs was shown as legally equal to whites, but still needing to overcome social barriers through personal interaction with others. He was human. He could make mistakes and even act upon his own racism. He could face consequences just like any white man. But he could also stand up for himself.

White people, particularly in the South, were used to slapping black men — as just one example of disrespectful treatment. By depicting that response between black and white, the movie sent a shot across the bow of white Americans. “We’re not going to take this any longer. Hit us and we hit you back. We will treat you with the same level of respect you treat us.”


Putting it in a movie was a much better way to teach that lesson than riots in the streets. (Unfortunately, those would mostly occur the year following the movie’s release.) Equality involves both the right to self-defense against physical assault and the obligation to restrain yourself from unnecessary violence.

The movie showed the characters of the movie as people. Poitier wasn’t a stereotypical black man and at least Rod Stieger didn’t portray Gillespie as a stereotypical white man. They were people who didn’t know one another and didn’t trust each other until they got to know each other. The characters didn’t argue race relationships or slave reparations. Tibbs refused to run away in the face of threats because he had a job to do and Gillespie admired his integrity. The end of racial animosity between them rested on personal interaction and mutual respect. For the last couple of scenes, the two men work together as equals and all racial tension is set aside as they seek their quarry. And in the end, they depart as friends.

Wouldn’t that be a healthier choice for the world to adopt today?

Posted February 20, 2023 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

Tagged with , , , ,

What's Your Opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Numen da Gabaviggiano

Nada como tus ojos para sonreir

Lines by Leon

Leon Stevens is a poet, science fiction author, and composer. Writing updates, humorous blogs, music, and poetry.

Valentine But

Books: fiction and poetry

Faith Reason And Grace

Inside Life's Edges

Elliot's Blog

Generally Christian Book Reviews

The Libertarian Ideal

Voice, Exit and Post-Libertarianism


Social trends, economics, health and other depressing topics!

My Corner

I write to entertain and inspire.

The Return of the Modern Philosopher

Deep Thoughts from the Shallow End of the Pool

Steven Smith

The website of British steampunk and short story author


a voracious reader. | a book blogger.


adventure, art, nature, travel, photography, wildlife - animals, and funny stuff

%d bloggers like this: