How Lilies of the Field challenged the fallacy of racism

That actor went on to have one of the most successful acting careers in history, winning numerous more awards, but more importantly appearing in productions that explored issues of race, discrimination, human rights, and justice.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (In the Old Testament, Solomon was a King, who was the richest man in the world at that time.)

 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 

 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6, ESV

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

“Lilies of the Field”

Although his acting ability had already won critical acclaim, a young actor made movie history in 1963 in a film based on this Bible text. In Lilies of the Field , he portrayed an itinerant handyman who meets a group of German-speaking nuns living in rural Arizona. After performing a small repair on a roof for them, he naturally asks to be paid. To which the Mother Superior replies,

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

That actor went on to have one of the most successful acting careers in history, winning numerous more awards, but more importantly appearing in productions that explored issues of race, discrimination, human rights, and justice.

Sidney Poitier, now 93 years old, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field. He was the first black man to win the best actor award, and the second black person to win any Academy award. ( Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939’s Gone with the Wind, making her the first black person to be nominated for and receive an Oscar. In June 2020 HBO planned to add “historical context” to the streaming version of the movie.)

In a post on the website The New Lyceum, Joey Barretta wrote this about the actor.

Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1964, the same year that the Civil Rights Act was passed and a year prior to the Voting Rights Act. He rose to be a star at a time in which racism was common and his career began before segregation was abolished. This man is a true hero, albeit one who played some compelling fictional characters setting an example for the fallacy that is racism. By portraying decent men, he set an example of excellence in character that even the prejudiced whites of his day could not ignore.

J. Baretta, March 5, 2018

Some of Mr. Poitier’s other works which delved into social issues include

  • Cry, the Beloved Country-based on the novel about apartheid in South Africa
  • To Sir, With Love-social and racial tensions in an inner city school
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – interracial marriage
  • A Patch of Blue and The Defiant Ones -interracial friendships
  • In the Heat of the Night and They Call Me Mister Tibbs!– racial bias among law enforcement professionals
  • Separate but Equal– portrayal of Thurgood Marshall, future Supreme Court Justice
  • Mandela and deKlerk-portrayal of Nelson Mandela, future President of South Africa
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from story to novel to movie

The movie was based on a 1962 novel, The Lilies of the Field , by William Edmund Barrett. He in turn used the true story of the Sisters of Walburga as his inspiration.

Why not read a post I wrote about another novel that used this Bible verse. Here’s an excerpt-

In The Narrow Corner, W. Somerset Maugham tells a story about Dr. Saunders, an English physician who lives and practices in China. He is quite in demand among wealthy Chinese; we never learn exactly why he left England but the author hints that he was more highly regarded in the Far East than he had been in Britain. 

Dr. Saunders is summoned away from his home  to a South Pacific island to attend to a wealthy man who requests his medical care. He boards a small ship with a salty captain and a young man who keeps his reason for travelling a guarded secret.

What was supposed to be a pleasant and uneventful trip to a tropical island, turned into an uncomfortable and shocking adventure when they meet four people whose lives proved more complicated that they initially appeared.  Dr. Saunders and his travelling companions soon find themselves sucked into their intrigue. 

continue reading at

The Narrow Corner

exploring the HEART of life through literature and media

I’ll hope you’ll watch Lilies of the Field if you’ve never seen it before. And also watch some of Mr. Poitier’s other films, which I think you will find add revealing context to the social justice issues our country is confronting and correcting in the 21st century. Check out this article for some suggestions .

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

A doctor, a lawyer, an immigrant, and a flag that still waved

a true story involving a doctor and a lawyer that almost sounds like the opening line of a joke. Today doctors and lawyers sometimes bear the brunt of jokes or criticism, but in this story they played a pivotal role in American history. It’s a story that most people know, but maybe not the whole story.

this post was updated June 13, 2020

When I originally wrote this post, I wanted to highlight the role that two physicians played in United States history. Part of that history includes the role of a lawyer who is better known than they are but has a dreadful legacy. The man credited with writing our national anthem was a slave owner.

So I have updated this post with links where you can explore more about this side of his character. As we continue to learn more about the conflicting character of many figures from the past, let’s re-examine and re-explore how their actions brought us here, to help us choose where we go next. We can create a new history from lessons we learn from the old.

June 14, Flag Day

While we consider July 4 to be the birthday of the United States, June 14 is the birthday of the United States flag. Although June 14 is observed as National Flag Day it is not an official holiday, so banks don’t close and no one gets a day off work.

But we enjoy it anyway, wearing red, white, and blue, and displaying the flag at homes and businesses. Some patriotic organizations pass out small flags or flag pins to wear.

American flag waving at a Vietnam Veterans Wall replica
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall replica

The United States flag is often called the “Star-Spangled Banner”, after our national anthem, which is more about the flag than about the nation. I don’t know if this is true in other countries, but we tend to closely identify our flag with our national identity; maybe that’s one reason there has been such heated debate about the way people acknowledge the flag publicly.

A lawyer and a doctor

So that brings us to a true story involving a doctor and a lawyer that almost sounds like the opening line of a joke. Today doctors and lawyers sometimes bear the brunt of jokes or criticism, but in this story they played a pivotal role in American history. It’s a story that most people know, but maybe not the whole story.

The lawyer, Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key’s role in our national anthem is well known-he wrote it. A lawyer, he was on a rescue mission during the War of 1812, and spent a harrowing night watching the British assault Ft. McHenry near Baltimore Maryland.

The next morning, when he saw the red, white, and blue flag still flying over the fort, he was moved to write a poem. That poem became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Francis Scott Key’s life was a lot more complicated than just writing The Star-Spangled Banner
The doctor, William Beanes, M.D.

Dr. Beanes’ role is less well known. Dr. Beanes was the object of Mr. Key’s rescue mission. Dr. Beanes had been captured by British soldiers and imprisoned on a ship. Local citizens arranged for Francis Key to go to the ship and negotiate his release. It is believed the British were persuaded to do so because Dr. Beanes had previously treated injured British soldiers. Whatever the reason, the “elderly” (age 65!) doctor was freed and he, Key, and John Skinner, watched and waited out the battle on a near-by truce ship.

An anthem is born

“Interestingly, he( Key) made no effort to promote this composition. In fact, he did not even sign it. He merely showed his lyrics to a few friends, who then circulated the work. For several decades, Key’s name rarely appeared alongside these lyrics, which — by the time of the Civil War — had become arguably America’s most beloved song.

It wasn’t until 1931 that a congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the U.S. national anthem — an anthem that never would’ve existed had a lawyer not been asked to help out a doctor.” TIME.ORG

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the immigrant, James McHenry, M.D.

Even Ft. McHenry has a medical connection- it was named for a physician, James McHenry.

James McHenry emigrated from Ireland to the American colonies in 1771. He studied medicine with Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia and immediately volunteered as an Army surgeon when the Revolutionary War began. After serving in the medical department in Massachusetts, New York and at Valley Forge, he became an aide to General George Washington and subsequently an aide to the Marquis de Lafayette.

President Washington appointed McHenry Secretary of War and he continued in that post under President John Adams. Baltimore’s Fort Whetstone was renamed Fort McHenry in his honor. (source-PubMed.gov)

sharing the HEART of history

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of medical history trivia and that it prompts you to do some history exploring on your own. You may also find this related link interesting

Poems and poppies-why we remember John McCrae-physician, poet, reluctant soldier

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

American Legion Auxiliary logo in a field of poppies
OLD GLORY I am a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, a women’s service organization supporting veterans, the military, and our country. In this link from the ALA blog, learn why the flag is also called Old Glory.
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