Using archival footage and new interviews in inventive ways, filmmaker Jeremy Dean shows the relevancy of matters from an earlier era in Dare Not Walk Alone. Even though this production was completed in 2006, the racial politics of the current presidential election make his film all the more significant.

Dean tells the story of St. Augustine, Florida, where, in 1964, civil-rights activists marched on an inn that refused black customers. The response to the marchers was angry and violent, which led to a crisis in the political world. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers saw the incident as an impetus for President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act, which Johnson soon did.

In other parts of the film, Dean shows St. Augustine today and how the events of the past inform the present. He examines the lives of an African-American hip-hop artist and a convict—how they have battled poverty and the more subtle and insidious forms of racism that exist today.

Dare Not Walk Alone shifts back and forth between the contemporary sections and the archival footage, a technique which may seem confusing at first but actually underscores the theme of relevancy. Dean’s manipulation of the older material (through repetition, slow-motion, etc.) confers a plaintive, poetic grace note to the proceedings. Some of it is difficult to watch (in particular, the beatings), yet, apparently, very little of this particular assemblage has been seen before—and there is a surprisingly large amount of newsreel and home-movie clips.

There have been many documentaries about the civil-rights era, Martin Luther King, Jr., the segregationist politicians, and the aftermath of desegregation, but Dare Not Walk Alone tries a different approach with a small but important part of the bigger story. The message that comes through is that society may have improved in some ways, but racism still exists.