A southern teacher attempts to save a local school in Within Our Gates, the oldest known surviving film by Oscar Micheaux.
As a filmmaker, Micheaux used the medium to depict the realities of contemporary black life in America. In addition to criticizing systemic racism and bigotry and challenging stereotypical depictions of African-Americans, his work also bluntly depicted class and gender struggles within African-American communities themselves, while also vociferously condemning "Uncle Tom" type characters who sold out their fellow African-Americans to gain favor with white bigots. Micheaux was also greatly influenced by the writings of Booker T. Washington, who glorified the idea of the self-made person.
Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) is visiting her cousin Alma (Flo Clements) up north. She's eagerly awaiting the return of her fiance Conrad (James D. Ruffin), who is due to return home from army service in Europe after World War I any day now. However, Alma has her eye on Conrad herself, and successfully engineers a rift between the two. She also plots to set up Sylvia with her brother-in-law Larry (Jack Chenault), a gambler and crook. In the aftermath of all this, Sylvia sadly returns down south to Piney Woods, "where ignorance and the lynch law reign supreme," to quote one of the film's inter-titles. The local school for African-American children, run by Reverend Jacobs, is faced with closure due to crowding and neglectful state officials who refuse to provide adequate funding. A teacher herself, Sylvia decides to head back up north to raise funds for the school, without much initial success at first.