Nothing But a Man (1964) Michael Roemer

The time is the early 1960’s and the civil rights movement is still in its early stages. Duff Henderson (Ivan Dixon) is a young rootless man who has yet to settle down since getting out of the Army. He spent some time up north but found it not much better than down south where he grew up, so he came back.

At first, Duff is just one of the guys, a railroad worker laying down tracks. He’s amiable, decent; he compassionately rejects a proposition from a down and out prostitute. His visit to see his young son by a former girlfriend turns uncomfortable when he discovers she left the boy with a neighbor who can barely take care of herself. He gives her some money and promises to send more on a regular basis. Most importantly, he meets Josie (Abbey Lincoln), a school teacher. Josie’s father is a preacher and a “respected” black man who “gets along” with the white community, mostly by surrendering his self respect, bowing to the good will crumbs the white community tosses him. He doesn’t see Duff as a good fit for his daughter, he tells Duff, you need to learn how to get along, but Josie sees something in him that makes her want to go out with him.

Duff and Josie marry. Duff gets a steady job but unlike the other black workers he won’t go along with the flow. He refuses to respond when white bosses call him “boy” or laugh at their jokes that aren’t funny. He is a man who wants respect, he doesn’t scream it out; he just feels it’s his right.

Duff finds himself losing his job when he won’t bend to the demands of his white supervisor who “heard” rumors he was trying to organize a union. Refusing to tell his fellow black workers he was misinterpreted, and was not attempting to unionize them, he is fired. Another job at a gas station ends similarly after a confrontation with some whites who made some insulting remarks toward his wife. One of the whites threatens Duff’s white boss, telling him his station could easily go up in flames if he doesn’t fire that “boy.” Continue reading