“Lost Boundaries” and Dr.Johnston’s Brave Choices


February 4, 2019 by kittynh


The Historical Society of Cheshire County is having a pop up exhibit to commemorate the film “Lost Boundaries“.  The exhibit is only up through Feb. 16th, so please plan to visit so you get a chance to know about the wonderful and brave Dr.Johnston.


At the Keene showing of the film family members spoke about how the film impacted the lives of everyone.  People cried during the showing of the film

It’s hard to believe it has been 70 years since this film was released.  This film that was a success, financially and in winning awards, was an act of faith and bravery by those who produced it.


From an exhibit magazine article quoting Dr.Johnston Still holds true today.

First the Johnston family.  Race identity is still a serious topic in the United States.  Black blood is still often seen as “tainted”. Even a drop of Black blood makes many believe you are just “Black”.


a grouping of family photographs

The film “Lost Boundaries” deals with a family that decides to pass.  Passing was much feared by the white community.  It meant you could accidentally marry someone “Black” and then your children would all be Black.


The film shows this was not an easy decision.


Louis de Rochemont took states to court to allow the showing of the film

The film also highlights the fears of being found out.


Johnston could only apply for jobs at Black hospitals.  These jobs were very few, and when an opportunity came to pass as a white doctor in a good community, he was advised to take it.  He came to be known as a part of the community, easily settling down in this very old and historic town.


Dr.Johnston’s son first interested Louis de Rochemont in the story.  Though this was not the story he had approached de Rochemont about.  de Rochemont had taken Albert for white.

What isn’t seen in the movie, and is covered in detail at the exhibit, is the rest of the story.


This is still common today.  I don’t like THEM, but oh the ones I know are alright.

It was Dr.Johnston himself who agreed to the story of his family becoming public. He could have chosen to stay passing.  He had no clue what the result of coming out would mean for his family and his practice. He was the father of 4 children, and wrote about how much he enjoyed living in Keene.  He was willing to risk all of that, in order that the truth of the difficult decisions Black families are forced to make, could become public.


Mel Ferrer starred in the film as Dr.Johnston.  He is not part Black. He was told taking this movie role could end his career.  He was well known as a Broadway actor and he said he didn’t care.

The film could not find financing, so the producer, Louis de Rochemont, mortgaged his house to pay for the cost of filming.  The filming was done in the state of New Hampshire, giving the movie a feeling of being a private documentary.  The mountains, streams and historic homes make New Hampshire an important part of the story.


I would encourage anyone that is able, to get in a visit to this exhibit. I could write the “rest of the story”.  But, no one can write the rest of the story as well as Dr.Johnston.  His later speeches to NAACP groups can be read.  What happened to his 4 children?  What happened to his practice? Seeing that information first hand is a moving experience.


3 thoughts on ““Lost Boundaries” and Dr.Johnston’s Brave Choices

  1. sgerbic says:

    Thanks Kitty, I just watched the trailer on YouTube and will probably get the movie. I hadn’t heard of this before. Wish I lived nearby.

    • kittynh says:

      thanks, not until I moved to Keene did I know of this… and I admit I know little about “passing”. That’s why I like the Historical Society, much like Skepticism, it keeps the facts right!

  2. mischling2nd says:

    If you LOOK white because of European genes, then you ARE white. To say otherwise implies that “black blood” is super-inferior. Of course, if that’s true, why is the obvious African ancestry in Hispanics and Arabs politely ignored? “Race” is a game.


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