powered by AFI
The film is composed of narrated documentary footage, reenactments of actual events, stock footage, still photographs and newsreels. America's historical struggle for liberty is reflected in the lives and actions of ordinary citizens fighting for the rights guaranteed to them under the United States Constitution: One day in 1934, a hard-working Michigan farmer, Fred Hill, is beaten to death for opposing a group of union busters at a grange meeting. Two years later, a young girl cleaning the windows of a house in Cleveland, Ohio, finds the murdered body of a union activist. In the summer of the same year, vandals destroy a church used by both black and white sharecroppers in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Two sharecroppers, one black, the other white, are killed by the armed vandals. At a Local 131 union meeting, a man named Harry Carlisle falsely accuses another man of spying on the meeting and compiling the names of the meeting attendees for a blacklist. Carlisle, a secret operative in the employ of the company fighting unionization, uses the hysteria created by the accusation to win the confidence of the other employees. Carlisle is given a large bonus and promotion for his work, but despite this, tells his bosses that he no longer wants to be involved in the company's scheme. Threatened with harm and ordered to procure another list of names, Carlisle attempts to sabotage the operation by concealing his new list from the company. When another informant reports the double-cross, the company bosses threaten to expose Carlisle's anti-union activities to union members, and thus force him to continue serving them. Carlisle eventually cracks and confesses his activities to the union. The confession comes too late, however, as Carlisle's company begins firing workers on the blacklist. Workers in other parts of the country are seen demonstrating, fighting and even dying for their rights. In Brooklyn, New York, peaceful protesters are physically attacked by a group of counter-demonstrating agitators. In Memphis, Tennessee, grocer and union supporter Frank Mason is terrorized by a thug who warns him to take his family and leave town. In Florida, on 30 Nov 1935, leaders of the Modern Democratic party are whipped and lynched by members of the Ku Klux Klan when they enter a progressive candidate in a primary election near Tampa. In Chicago, 2,000 demonstrators are prevented by police from approaching the Republic Steel plant. A violent clash between the police and demonstrators ensues, during which ten people are killed and ninety are injured. At a funeral service for one of the slain demonstrators, a mourner delivers a eulogy that concludes with the words: "He was the kind of man who stood up for his rights. We don't forget that. Never."