Original Air Date: March 27, 1964
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Abner Biberman
“It’s important to get with the majority, isn’t it?”
In an episode which is somewhat reminiscent of Season 2’s “Dust,” “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” introduces a town which becomes enshrouded in darkness on execution day. This episode was written by Rod Serling in part as a reaction to President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
“Sheriff Charlie Koch on the morning of an execution. As a matter of fact, it’s seven-thirty in the morning. Logic and natural laws dictate that at this hour there should be daylight. It is a simple rule of physical science that the sun should rise at a certain moment and supersede the darkness. But at this given moment, Sheriff Charlie Koch, a deputy named Pierce, a condemned man named Jagger, and a small, inconsequential village will shortly find out that there are causes and effects that have no precedent. Such is usually the case—in the Twilight Zone.”
Total darkness has befallen an old Midwestern town on the day it intends to execute a man named Jagger (Terry Becker). Jagger is being hanged for the killing of a well-known bigot, he claims it was in self-defense, and Jagger remains unrepentant. While some of the townsfolk are worried about the divine implications of this strange supernatural darkness such as Sheriff Koch (Michael Constantine), the mob in the streets is bloodthirsty for the death of Jagger.
A local Black clergyman, Reverend Anderson (Ivan Dixon), attempts to question the hanging but to no avail. He questions Jagger before siding with the mob as Jagger comments on tyranny of the majority. Jagger is then unceremoniously hanged and a sudden quietude befalls the town as it grows darker and darker. Later, a radio broadcast reveals that the town is not the only place where an unnatural situation has occurred. The sky has also turned dark over similar places which are consumed by hatred: North Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, a political prison in Budapest, an area of Chicago, Dealey Plaza (the street in Dallas where President Kennedy was fatally shot), the whole city of Birmingham, Alabama, Shanghai, China, and other places.
“A sickness known as hate. Not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ—but a sickness nonetheless, highly contagious, deadly in its effects. Don’t look for it in the Twilight Zone—look for it in a mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether.”
This episode forces us to consider the idea of divine punishment for acts of “hatred,” as we also weigh which is case worse –a murderer, or the bigot he killed. Admittedly, this is not one of the finer episodes for The Twilight Zone. It is far too pretentious of an episode and filled with one too many disparate themes, though it does contain vague echoes of the show’s earlier greatness, such as Rod Serling’s signature skepticism toward mob justice as found in episodes like “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Rod Serling wrote this script primarily as his personal reaction to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 (Dealey Plaza is explicitly mentioned in the episode).
- This episode bears similarities to “Many, Many Monkeys” a script written for The Twilight Zone by its producer William Froug, but it was never shot. Apparently, in the script an epidemic breaks out in which people’s eyelids grow enclosed with their own skin. Though a nuclear explosion is initially blamed, one character proposes that it is a physical manifestation of hate that is blinding them. The network bought the script but then shelved it, finding its subject matter too disturbing, but it was eventually produced in 1989, during the first revival of Twilight Zone television show.
- Years earlier, Rod Serling wrote a teleplay for Playhouse 90 called “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” about the 1870 lynching of an innocent Mexican man in a Southwestern town (the story was loosely based on the Emmett Till case). However, Serling had to deal with executive interference and network censors before the episode could air. It was part of the reason he wanted more creative freedom in making The Twilight Zone.
- Michael Constantine, who plays Sheriff Koch in this episode, was a Greek-American actor who appeared in a variety of films and television programs. In later life, he appeared in the surprise comedy hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). He died in 2021.
- Ivan Dixon was an actor and civil rights activist. He previously appeared as Bolie in the Season 1 episode “The Big Tall Wish.” He was perhaps best known for his role in Hogan’s Heroes. He died in 2008.
- A few other characters were played by known television actors including Paul Fix (who played a recurring character on The Rifleman), George Lindsey (who played a recurring character on The Andy Griffith Show), and Eve McVeagh (who appeared in many different shows and previously appeared in the earlier Twilight Zone episode “Kick The Can”).
- According to the narrative in this episode, it takes place on May 25, 1964.