Picks and Pans Review: Dawn's Early Light

updated 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Mon., Aug. 7, check local listings)

B

The WHITES ONLY signs always come as a shock, no matter how many times you see them in old news clips about the South. The difficult, turbulent social upheaval that led to their removal during the '50s and '60s was brilliantly chronicled by Atlanta journalist Ralph McGill, who died in 1969. His daily column on the front page of the Atlanta Constitution called for a voice of reason during a period of inflamed fear and bigotry. A frustrated poet, his words were seductive and emotionally charged. "He was one pungent cat," recalls a friend.

This insightful 60-minute documentary attempts to explain McGill's appeal, which goes back to his roots. As a young man growing up in Tennessee he, like many of his readers, had held segregationist views. But as he got older he became more and more convinced that integration had to happen. He not only changed himself, but he brought millions along with him, says John Popham of the New York Times. By today's standards McGill's views may seem tame; in fact, he claimed not to understand the black power movement. But 30 years ago, when he was 61, his views weren't taken lightly—his son says his dad made him sleep with a loaded revolver. Included are interviews with black leaders and prominent journalists. Many of the words McGill wrote are read by Burt Lancaster.

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