American Experience: Season 1 (1988 - 1989)

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Season 1
American Experience

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Air date: Oct 4, 1988

In April of 1906, the grand and thriving city of San Francisco was host to luminaries including writer Jack London, world-class opera tenor Enrico Caruso, and movie star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. At 5:30 in the morning on April 18, one of the most disastrous earthquakes in U.S. history shook the city to its foundations, demolishing hundreds of city blocks. London, Caruso, and Arbuckle survived, but the fire chief was mortally wounded and gas-fed blazes burned out of control. In the end, as this PBS documentary shows, estimates of casualties from the quake and the resulting fire ran to around 3,000. Of the city's 400,000 citizens, 225,000 were left homeless. Highlights of this program from The American Experience series include commentary by historians, archival motion picture footage, and photographs.

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Air date: Jun 10, 1988

"Radio Bikini," a 1987 documentary, recalls 1946 A-bomb tests conducted by the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. Included: declassified footage, newsreels and interviews with eyewitnesses. Directed by Robert Stone.

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Air date: Oct 18, 1988

Raised in Oklahoma when it was still Indian territory, Angie Debo rose above poverty and sexism to become a teacher, renowned author, and expert in Native American history. Originally telecast on PBS, this documentary features an interview with Debo in her nineties. Directed by Martha Sandin and narrated by Rhonda Coullett, the program profiles Debo and her career, including the publication of her Ph.D. thesis, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, a book that won the John H. Dunning Prize from the American Historical Association. Highlights include an examination of the controversy surrounding her book And Still the Waters Run, which revealed the way Oklahoma Indians were swindled out of their land. This episode of American Experience is introduced by David McCullough.

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Air date: Oct 25, 1988

This program is part of the acclaimed PBS series that presents stories on influential people and events in American history. This episode features Eric Sevareid as he reflects on his experience of growing up in America during the turbulent era of the Depression and World War II. The eloquent journalist recounts memories of growing up in small-town America, and then his own changing world view, shaped by the major events of his day. Archival photographs and film footage, as well as readings from his autobiography, re-create the spirit of those eventful days.

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Air date: Nov 1, 1988

Women discuss their roles as World War II munitions workers, the liberation the work gave them, sexual and racial tensions they faced, and their disillusionment after the war. Included: archival footage, stills and music of the period. Host: David McCullough.

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Air date: Nov 8, 1988

A visit to Big Piney, Wyo., where life on the range is observed. Included: a ranch where the entire herd was sold to avoid foreclosure; a successful ranch. Narrator: Glenn Close. Host: David McCullough.

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Air date: Nov 15, 1988

Legendary documentary filmmaker Robert Drew updates his 1963 film Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment in this video. Addressing a complex moment in American history, Kennedy vs. Wallace incorporates contemporary reactions to the barring of Black students from entering the all-White University of Alabama. President John F. Kennedy faced a major crisis when, despite a federal court order, Governor George Wallace vowed never to let African-Americans into the university. This documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at White House decision-making, combined with updated responses by one of the students and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

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Air date: Nov 22, 1988

Direct descendants of the legendary Native American leader Geronimo aid in telling the story of the Apache medicine man, who, along with his followers, resisted white settlement. When the United States government attempted to move the Chiricahua Apache people to San Carlos Reservation from their traditional home, Geronimo orchestrated massive resistance. For ten years, Geronimo led a crusade to keep his ancestral land, defying and eluding the federal authorities. This documentary, American Experience: Geronimo and the Apache Resistance, describes the events that finally led Geronimo and his followers to surrender in 1886. This is the story of a tragic collision of two civilizations, each with startlingly different views of one another, a little-known chapter in American history with a big impact.

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Air date: Nov 29, 1988

This program is part of the award-winning PBS series American Experience. This episode presents authors James Agee and Walker Evans as they examine events that have transpired since the publication of their book on Alabama tenant farmers. The two writers shared the Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for their incisive journalism. They look at how things are different -- and the same -- then and now. Archival film clips, photographs, and interviews are used to tell the updated story.

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Air date: Dec 6, 1988

The African-American music known as rhythm and blues helped break down the racial barriers of segregation at a time when Jim Crow laws were the norm in the United States. Directed by George T. Nierenberg, this documentary aired as an episode of the Emmy award-winning PBS television series The American Experience. As shown here, R&B music had grown out of the traditional blues and gospel. Nierenberg traces the increase in popularity of the genre. In the 1940s, R&B spread through live performances because white-owned radio stations refused to play the music. Yet, eventually, whites embraced the style and its dances. Highlights include archival footage of the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem, as well as profiles of numerous R&B pioneers, including Ruth Brown and Charles Brown.

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