Watch American Experience: The Harvest on WITF TV
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas A. Blackmon looks back on his experience as a member of the first class of Black and white children to attend all 12 grades together in Leland, Mississippi.
Explore what happened when the small Mississippi town of Leland integrated its public schools in 1970. Told through the remembrances of students, teachers and parents, the film shows how the town – and America – were transformed.
American Experience: The Harvest follows the brave coalition of Black and white citizens who worked to create racially integrated public schools in the most unlikely place: a 1960s cotton town in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, the most rigidly segregated area in America. It tells the extraordinary story of how that first class became possible, then traces the lives of Blackmon and his classmates, teachers and parents through high school graduation in 1982. It is a riveting portrait of how those children’s lives were transformed and how the town — and America — were changed. But as the film follows the lives of those children into the present, it is also a portrait of what our society has lost in its failure to finish the work begun a generation ago.
Moving into the present, American Experience: The Harvest discovers that the success of those first years of integration has gradually fallen apart. In the 50 years since Douglas Blackmon and his classmates began first grade, the local economy faltered, and white families almost entirely abandoned public schools. And, as the schools once more became racially divided, the town’s racial divisions have deepened. But even amid those disappointments, many members of that first class have returned to Leland, committed to giving back to their community. Blackmon finds hope in the lives of his classmates, who have gone on to become the town’s police chief, a federal judge, an Army colonel, a high school deputy principal, and a school superintendent. Through the story of Leland, The Harvest paints a fascinating portrait of one town and one extraordinary class of students, and offers a timely look at the continuing challenges of racial division and education equity still facing America today.