Harriet Beecher Stowe's immortal anti-slavery tale is adapted for the screen in this long-lost silent classic, the first major motion picture to star an African-American actor. First published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century. The story of the noble slave Uncle Tom, who is separated from his family but finds a new home when he saves little Eva St. Clair, connected with audiences. It fueled the abolitionist cause in the 1850s, to the extent that Abraham Lincoln later told Stowe that her book was responsible for starting the Civil War. With such widespread popularity, a stage adaptation was soon in the making. "Tom" was usually portrayed in these traveling shows by a white man in blackface. But one African-American performer, Sam Lucas, made a name for himself playing the role beginning in 1878. He would become so associated with the character that his name was actually used on posters and advertising, a rarity for black performers in any capacity. So it comes as little surprise that Lucas was lured out of retirement to play Uncle Tom again in a film version almost four decades later. This was the first time an African-American starred in a "white" film, as well as the first time a black actor played Uncle Tom on the big screen (the novel's ubiquitousness meant that there had already been six film adaptations, despite the medium being relatively new.) After completing work with director William Robert Daly, Sam Lucas passed away from pneumonia. He was believed to be 67. This rare version of Uncle Tom's Cabin is thus invaluable as the only surviving footage of this trailblazing performer, called the "Grand Old Man of the Negro Stage" by the NAACP's James Weldon Johnson.
BONUS: Uncle Tom's Cabin(1910): In 1910, Vitagraph Studios released their own version of Stowe's novel, starring Caucasian actor Edwin R. Phillips as Uncle Tom. It was innovative at the time for being the first "3 reel" motion picture. Previously, feature-length movies had been comprised of just one reel of film, running only 15 minutes. Thought to be lost, all that exists of Vitagraph's version is this 20-minute cutdown distributed by the Empire Safety Film Company for home viewing. It was available at the same Universal released their epic, big-budget Uncle Tom's Cabin (1927).