Two New 'American Experience' Docs Focus On School Desegregation

Today at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, PBS and American Experience announced two new documentaries that examine the deeply mixed legacy of America’s efforts to racially integrate public schools. 

Boston School Battle is directed by Sharon Grimberg and Cyndee Readdean and takes a look at the impact of the city' decision to desegregate the public schools. The Harvest is directed by Sam Pollard and Douglas A. Blackmon and examines Leland, Mississippi’s attempts to desegregate its schools. Both episodes will premiere during the 2023/2024 season.

Here are the official loglines of the episodes:

Boston School Battle
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 (Joseph McCarthyThe 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.

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