WATERTOWN, NY (September 5, 2023) – AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is back with two powerful new documentaries that examine the deeply mixed legacy of America’s efforts to racially integrate public schools: The Busing Battleground and The Harvest. The Busing Battle Ground viscerally captures the class tensions and racial violence that met the city’s decision to use busing to end school segregation. The film is directed by Sharon Grimberg and Cyndee Readdean. The Harvest is a personal and powerful look at Leland, Mississippi’s attempts to desegregate its schools. The film is directed by Sam Pollard and Douglas A. Blackmon, one of the Leland students and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II; both films are executive produced by Cameo George.
“These two films — one taking place in the urban North, the other in a small Southern town and both nearly 20 years after Brown v Board of Education made school segregation illegal — challenge our perception of how communities across the country dealt with the Supreme Court ruling,” said Cameo George, Executive Producer of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. “They also remind us that this was one of the most complicated and fraught national experiments in American history. Both films are witness-driven and allow those who lived through the events on both sides of the color line to share their experiences, now with the hindsight of five decades.”
The Busing Battleground and The Harvest will air Tuesday, September 12th starting at 8:00 pm on WPBS-TV.
The Bussing Battleground (8:00 pm)
On June 21, 1974, in response to decades of racial segregation and clear evidence of educational disparities, U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered the Boston Public Schools to integrate through a court-mandated busing plan. Despite the city’s self-proclaimed reputation as the “cradle of liberty” and the “birthplace of abolition,” it had always been racially divided. The institution of forced busing set off racial violence and class tensions across the city, and media coverage of the unrest shaped Boston’s reputation and attitudes toward school desegregation across the country for decades. Using eyewitness accounts, oral histories and rare news archives, the film examines the volatile effort to end segregation in Boston’s public schools and details the decades-long struggle for educational equity that preceded the busing crisis. The film is directed by Sharon Grimberg (American Experience Joseph McCarthy, The Abolitionists) and Cyndee Readdean (Reconstruction: America After the Civil War).
The Harvest (10:00 pm)
After the 1954 Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, little more than token efforts were made to desegregate Southern schools. That changed dramatically on October 29, 1969, when the high court ordered that Mississippi schools fully and immediately desegregate. As a result, six-year-old Douglas Blackmon entered school in the fall of 1970 as part of the first class of Black and white children who would attend all 12 grades together in Leland, Mississippi. Set against vast historic and demographic changes unfolding across America, “The Harvest” follows a brave coalition of Black and white citizens working to create racially integrated public schools in a cotton town in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, steeped in a malign history of racial intolerance. It tells the extraordinary story of how that first class became possible, then traces the lives of Blackmon and his classmates, teachers and parents from the first day through high school graduation, capturing how the children, the town and America were changed. The film is directed by Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI) and Douglas A. Blackmon.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE The Busing Battleground and The Harvest will stream simultaneously with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. The films will also be available for streaming with closed captioning in English and Spanish.
About American Experience
For 35 years, American Experience has been television’s most-watched history series, bringing to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, five duPont-Columbia Awards and 19 George Foster Peabody Awards. PBS’s signature history series also creates original digital content that innovates new forms of storytelling to connect our collective past with the present. Cameo George is the series executive producer. American Experience is produced for PBS by GBH Boston. Visit pbs.org/americanexperience and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to learn more.
The Busing Battleground and The Harvest are distributed internationally by PBS International.
Major funding for American Experience provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Major funding for “Boston School Battle (w.t.)” provided by GBH Voices and Equity Fund, members of The Better Angels Society including The Fullerton Family Charitable Fund and Bobby and Polly Stein. Major funding for “The Harvest” provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Additional series funding for American Experience provided by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the Documentary Investment Group, and public television viewers.
WPBS is a PBS station serving approximately 650,000 households throughout Northern New York and Eastern Ontario via cable, satellite, Internet and over-the-air distribution. WPBS is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate, inform, and engage its two-nation region with exceptional and trusted content across multiple platforms. Its vision is to be the premier provider of extraordinary public media that instills wonder and curiosity across generations and borders. More information about WPBS, including a full channel listing, is available at wpbstv.org, or by following WPBS on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.