Left: Opponents of court-ordered school desegregation at Thomas Park in South Boston. Credit: Spencer Grant. Right: Students in Mississippi protest on the one-year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Credit: Randy Magee

Two new documentaries that examine the deeply mixed legacy of America’s efforts to racially integrate public schools will premiere in Fall 2023 on American Experience on PBS.

Directed by Sharon Grimberg and Cyndee Readdean, “Boston School Battle (w.t.)” viscerally captures the class tensions and racial violence that met the city’s decision to use busing to end school segregation. “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.”

“Boston School Battle (w.t.)”

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”

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.

Subscribe for Blog Updates

Sign up for our latest updates.