Quantum Leap (1989–1993)
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Black on White on Fire - August 11, 1965 

As a black medical student during the 1965 Watts riots, Sam must save his white fiancée.



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Episode cast overview:
Gregory Millar ...
Lonnie Harper
Corie Henninger ...
Susan Brewster
Sami Chester ...
Papa David Harper
Police Captain Paul Brewster
LaVerne Anderson ...
Mama Harper
Montrose Hagins ...
Young Woman
Jon Berry ...
Police Sniper
Ray Harper


Sam leaps into the body of Ray Harper, a promising African-American medical student who has the opportunity at an internship at a Boston hospital. Ray currently lives in Watts and it's the eve of the 1965 race riots. He's engaged to Susan, a white girl, and faces not only her father's wrath but that of his brother Lonnie and his friends. Al tells him that his purpose is to keep Ray and Susan together but there is a chance that Susan might die in the riots. As the violence and race hatred grows, both Ray and Susan must face the challenge of each communities prejudice. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Release Date:

9 November 1990 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In the original history, Ray Harper and Susan Brewster broke up after the Watts riots in August 1965 while Ray gave up his dream of becoming a doctor. See more »


Captain Paul Brewster refers to Malcolm X in the present tense. However, he was assassinated on February 21, 1965, almost six months before the Watts riots. See more »


[Sam is embodying Ray, a black medical student whose girlfriend, Susan, is white]
Mama Harper: Raising your children is gonna be hard, no matter where you do it.
Susan Bond: Why?
Mama Harper: Because wherever you go, they won't fit in. They won't be black and they won't be white.
Dr. Sam Beckett: They'll be human.
Mama Harper: Of course they'll be human, child. I'm talking about race!
Dr. Sam Beckett: I know, but, maybe, if we teach our kids to say that they're human, instead of black or white or red or yellow, maybe race won't matter.
Mama Harper: Huh. Not in my lifetime.
See more »


Papa's Got a Brand New Bag
Written by James Brown
Performed by James Brown (1965)
See more »

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User Reviews

Well-intentioned but flawed
2 February 2016 | by (Ireland) – See all my reviews

This is is one of the darkest, bloodiest episodes of the entire series but it is not of one of the better social commentary episodes. Sam leaps into a young black medical student named Ray Harper who is engaged to a white woman named Susan Brewster and they soon find themselves in the middle of the Watts riots in August 1965. Although Sam has been tangentially involved in historical events before such as the Watergate break-in in "Star-Crossed" and the 1965 Northeast blackout in "Double Identity", this is the first time that an historical event has been the main focus of an episode as opposed to merely a backdrop.

I can't imagine what it is like to caught up in such a bloody riot but the scenes which depicted the fighting on the street were very well done and suitably disturbing, not least because such things sadly still happen in the 21st Century. Deborah Pratt's script depicts both black people and white people as having shades of grey and being very human in that respect. There are good and bad people on both sides. That said, I'm not convinced that it was a very good idea to make Ray's militant brother Lonnie the de facto villain of the piece. It meant that the social commentary was not as effective as it could be since the episode pivots around a black man terrorising a white woman.

I think that it was certainly a mistake to give such prominence to Ray and Susan's "Romeo and Juliet" inspired star-crossed romance as it was more distracting than anything else and wasn't particularly well done. Obviously, the romance was intended to show that everyone can live together in peace which is certainly a laudable attitude but I would have preferred it if a more subtle approach had been taken. For instance, it could have featured one or two white civil rights workers being caught up in the violence and excluded the romance angle altogether. In any event, I much preferred the far simpler and considerably more memorable moment seen in "The Color of Truth" when Miss Melanie invited Sam (as Jesse Tyler) in sit with her at the counter of the whites' only diner in Alabama in 1955.

I'd give it a somewhat generous 7/10 but it had the potential to be a 10/10 with stronger writing. It was especially disappointing since I think that Deborah Pratt is the series' best writer.

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