Vernon Johns was one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in the United States. His fight against racial segregation started as early as the 1920s, paving the way for Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and other leaders of the civil rights movement in the second half of the twentieth century. ‘The Vernon Johns Story’ focuses on the years from 1947-1954, during which Johns was a minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Because of his provocative speeches and unyielding character, he clashed with local white officials and leaders of his own church.
A crucial moment in his life – and in this film – is when one of his staff was shot by a white policeman. In an inflammatory speech he violently denounced the murder, after which he was arrested. He also lost his position as minister of the Dexter Avenue Church. Vernon Johns was succeeded by Martin Luther King, who shortly after emerged as one of the leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Vernon Johns’ actions and opinions were undeniably a source of inspiration to King. Yet Johns was in danger of being forgotten. It was only thanks to research by historian Taylor Branch and this film directed by Kenneth Fink that he again became known to a wider audience.
The much more modest role of Martin Luther King in this film went to Eric Wade. The main character of Vernon Johns was portrayed by James Earl Jones, who considers this role one of the high points of his career.
Surprisingly, ‘The Vernon Johns Story’ never made it to the cinema. The television premiere was on 15 January 1994, the day that Martin Luther King would have turned 65.
For the trailer, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khiw8bpQYbI
For the complete film, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJH4e8cXlFw
The Vernon Johns Story (1994)
Director: Kenneth Fink
Available on DVD