A film by Douglas Blackmon and Sam Pollard
In collaboration with the Georgia Humanities Council
Scheduled for release: late 2018/early 2019
In The Harvest, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Douglas Blackmon and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Pollard tell the story of the struggle to integrate public schools in one small Mississippi Delta town—as seen through the eyes of black and white children born at the height of civil rights struggle and the transformation they and all of America would undergo over the next 50 years.
The film is a quest to unwind perhaps the most fundamental paradox of modern American life—how a society that so widely defeated legally mandated segregation and individual racism, at the same time so failed in building the diverse, interwoven, empathetic communities in which the vast majority of Americans say they want to live. It is an American story that rises beyond region or time.
Using archival film and footage shot by the filmmakers over the past two decades, The Harvest tracks the experiences of children born when Mississippi was aflame from 1964’s Freedom Summer, and follows as they enter school six years later in the first mixed-race classrooms in Mississippi, rise through youth and into adulthood, and then emerge today as leaders of their community.
The filmmakers engage citizens as they tell their stories, and capture the terrible fragility of a hard-won consensus a generation ago, the unwinding of that achievement, and the uncertain future that followed.
Blackmon was one of the children born that year, and a member of that initial group of children in Mississippi to attend racially integrated schools through all 12 years of public education. Versions of what happened there—in Leland, Mississippi—also played out in thousands of other places, as a vast national social experiment unfolded unpredictably. For many—like Blackmon—the benefits were enormous. But within two decades, most schools in racially diverse areas were once again deeply segregated.
The cost to America has been enormous: the institution that in the previous 100 years lifted millions from poverty to the middle class was crippled; the country as a whole remains unnecessarily vulnerable to racial conflict.
Today, virtually all of Leland’s public school students are black, and almost all white children attend private schools. Like everywhere, the issues also aren’t as simple as racism. A new school organized by an African-American church is attracting a growing number of black children as well. The fate of public schools hangs in the balance.
The Harvest asks a simple question: Why did this happen? The answer reaches beyond stereotypes about heroes and villains. Ultimately, it seeks lessons that might re-energize our ambitions. It is a humanizing window into our national dilemmas of race and opportunity—and in the end a moving portrait of local leaders and young people working to restart the transformation of their community, and the nation.