Today, January 6, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1961 premiere of "Dust."
Thomas Gomez, Vladimir Sokoloff, and John Larch (all multiple TZ episode performers) star in this sharp Rod Serling teleplay about a Mexican wagon driver (John Alonzo) who's about to be hanged for accidentally running down a child. To make some easy money, sleazy peddler Peter Sykes (Gomez) places some ordinary road dirt in a pouch and pawns it off to the boy's father (Sokoloff) as "magic dust" that can turn the town’s anger into compassion.
Rod Serling had somewhat of an obsession with injustice on The Twilight Zone, particularly when it involved a hanging. Throughout his writing career, he tried to tell the story of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the African-American who was hung for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. However, between network and sponsor indifference, his story was never dramatized in its original form. One network executive even told him that he could tell the story if he changed Till to a Mexican.
The early 1960s were still the dark ages of race relations in the U.S., and Serling was fully aware of that. But times were changing, and because of episodes like "Dust," writers like Serling were starting to chip away at the brutality of the justice system and the havoc it wreaked on families and society.