Shot in 1966, at the height of the modern Civil Rights Movement, this film details the Herculean efforts of a forward-thinking white Lutheran minister to advance the cause of race relations in his Nebraska parish. Openly opposed by church superiors and members of the local community who feel “the time is not right,” the calm, cool-headed Reverend Youngdahl finds his desire to reach out to black Lutherans thwarted at every turn.
Why we love it
None of the big TV networks would air Jersey’s controversial portrait of race relations in a small Midwestern town (which, amazingly, was funded by the Lutheran church), but it was eventually nominated for an Oscar and selected for the National Film Registry. What makes it so compelling today are the frank conversations Jersey’s camera captured between church council members, black youth groups, and one particularly outspoken barber (future state senator Ernie Chambers) who rebuffs the pastor. This is verité filmmaking at its very best.