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Category Archives: Blacks

The Road to Rock Bottom: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

PBS Great Depression Series, #2

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

53 minutes

This film, the second in the PBS Great Depression Series, examines the plight of farmers, sharecroppers, and agricultural workers before and particularly during the onset of The Great Depression. Devoting ample time to the hardships of agricultural labor, it focuses on the devastating effects that environmental factors such as drought wrought on farmers, migrant laborers, and sharecroppers alike. Sliding farm prices due to the glut of products on the market spurred a cycle of diminishing returns for most farmers, exacerbating their indebtedness and causing foreclosures, homelessness, privation, and starvation. “The Road to Rock Bottom” also devotes considerable time to the allure that Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd had among many impoverished Americans in the early Depression era. A bank robber, Floyd enjoyed popular support–and occasionally some protection–among struggling farming communities, for Floyd’s targeting banks tapped into their resentment at institutions that, on the one hand many blamed for causing the Great Depression and, on the other, were increasingly foreclosing on their farms and homes. The inability and unwillingness of the federal government to devote far more resources to battling the onslaught of poverty and desperation receives ample attention in the documentary as well. Many politicians, including President Herbert Hoover, believed that increasing the federal government’s role in the daily lives of its citizens would foster dependency that ran counter to the themes of individualism permeating both America’s political parties at that time, and long-standing American political traditions. Culminating the film is the Bonus Army’s march to and occupation of parts of Washington D.C. Its unsuccessful efforts to pressure Congress to pay the service bonus to military veterans earlier than promised resulted in violent clashes between the Army (led by Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur) and the Bonus marchers, sealing the fate of the Hoover presidency well before his overwhelming electoral defeat to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential elections.

 

 

A Job at Ford’s: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

PBS Great Depression Series, #1

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

51 minutes

The first film in the WGBH Great Depression Series, this documentary uses the rise of the Ford system of manufacturing and workplace control as a prism into the onset of the socioeconomic cataclysm by the end of the 1920s known as the Great Depression. Stocked with oral histories with workers, managers, and working-class families, as well as archival film footage, it analyzes the ways in which the automobile, as a product of labor and a catalyst for deep transformations in American society, dominated American life and dictated its economic fortunes. Cars offered far greater access to travel and cultural experiences, especially for women and rural residents, than ever before. Auto work also attracted migrants from across the country, as well as from Mexico, to manufacturing centers in Detroit and the industrial North. Crucially, “A Job at Ford’s” illustrates the repressive labor-relations system that governed not only the workplace environment of auto workers, but also the daily lives of their families in order to ensure compliance with Henry Ford’s desires for social control. Additionally, the film devotes ample time to Ford’s anti-Semitic, racist beliefs, to the worsening conditions of the Depressions, the struggles of everyday people to survive largely without the direct help of the federal government, and the community-based efforts of political radicals and neighborhood groups to respond to the crises. Culminating with the Ford Hunger March in which Ford security guards killed four marchers and wounded over sixty others, the film conveys violence as not only a real threat to organizing at this time, but also a thread through, and force mitigating, working-class daily life in the early twentieth century.

 

Arsenal of Democracy: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

PBS Great Depression Series, #7

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

53 minutes

The seventh and final installment in the PBS Great Depression series, this film links the onset of World War II and the role of the United States as the primary producer of war materiel with the lingering struggles of the Great Depression. Blending oral history with photos from Dorothea Lange and others, archival films, and audio clips, “Arsenal of Democracy” details the persistent plight of the poor throughout the 1930s, especially for migrant workers, farmers, and the homeless who, despite the historical attention they received, often remained outside the public and political scope at that time. It also explores the social, cultural, and economic changes that the transition from peace to war wrought, such as the racism and discrimination that African Americans and Asians experienced during the 1930s and in hiring and job opportunities; the internment of Japanese Americans after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; the use of racist imagery in wartime propaganda; greater employment opportunities for women and African Americans in wartime production; California’s incredible growth due to massive outlays of federal spending; and the end of the Great Depression.

 

 

 

Mean Things Happening: PBS Great Depression Series (1993)

PBS Great Depression Series, #5

Producer: WGBH, Boston

Narrator: Joe Morton

51 minutes

This documentary examines the efforts that tenant farmers and steelworkers undertook to organize and unionize amidst The Great Depression of the 1930s. Using interviews, film footage, and historians’ reflections, it recounts the privation and violent conditions facing H.L. Mitchell and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU), and industrial workers who formed the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the burgeoning Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Racism, paternalistic company towns, heavy-handed anti-unionism and violent opposition posed grave obstacles to organizers in the Southern agricultural fields and Northern industrial cities alike. A key element to the success of the SWOC and CIO on the one hand, and the failure of the STFU on the other, was the legal framework protecting organizing, rights, and concerted activity for private-sector workers with the passage of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which expressly excluded agricultural and domestic workers who comprised much of the South’s workforce. The result was the rise of powerful unionism in much of the more industrialized North, Midwest, and West, and the concomitant absence of effective unionism from the more agricultural South and Southwest, in the Depression-riddled 1930s.

 

Brooklyn Castle (2012)

US
101m
documentary
http://www.brooklyncastle.com/

Tells the stories of five members of the chess team at a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. The film follows the challenges these kids face in their personal lives as well as on the chessboard, and is as much about the sting of their losses as it is about the anticipation of their victories. Ironically, the biggest obstacle thrust upon them arises not from other competitors but from recessionary budget cuts to all the extracurricular activities at their school. BROOKLYN CASTLE shows how these kids’ dedication to chess magnifies their belief in what is possible for their lives. After all, if they can master the world’s most difficult game, what can’t they do?

 

Ten Dollars an Hour

The story of an African-American cook working at an all-white fraternity house at the University of Mississippi.

Ten Dollars an Hour (Full Movie: 15m)

 

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Southern Patriot (2010)

77m; U.S.
Director: Anne Lewis & Mimi Pickering
Distributed by California Newsreel and Appalshop

Synopsis: “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot (1924-2006)” is a first person feature documentary completed May 1, 2012. Braden rejected her segregationist, privileged past to become one of the civil rights movement’s staunchest white allies. In 1954 she was charged with sedition by McCarthy-style politicians who played on fears of communism to preserve southern segregation. In 1963 she became one of only five white southerners whose contributions to the movement were commended by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” A relentless labor and political organizer, she fought for transformation and liberation throughout her life.  – http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/06/15/18715481.php


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