For those of us of a certain generation, this was a seminal movie. It brought race relations to the fore in a way which Time Magazine articles or even newsreel footage of Civil Rights marchers being sprayed down by power hoses didn't.
The impact came, for me at least, from James Whitmore's understated, slow-burn performance. Nothing that dramatic happens to him in this movie. He's just shunted off incrementally, in one place or another, for no other reason than that he's passing himself off for black. It's really a Spencer Tracy acting turn, in a way. His transformation from weakling to adjudicator is akin to Tracy's in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.
The Bad guys are pretty much set up in a row. We also know who the good guy is. Hate to use the analogy, but things are presented in very black and white terms here. We know who the heroes and villains are. But the drama is in how it plays out. Whitmore learns lesson after painful lesson. The upshot is that his story and the film itself acts as a powerful exposé of the segregrationalist policies of the era. It made it a lot harder for the South to justify it's arcane drinking fountain, swimming pool, cafe-seating, bus-seating policies, in other words. One of the really important movies of the era, in other words, and one that should still be receiving kudos!