American Experience: Season 21 (2009)

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Season 21
American Experience

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Episodes

Air date: Jan 26, 2009

The life and legacy of atomic bomb creator J. Robert Oppenheimer serves as the subject of this installment of PBS's American Experience. His name forever bound to the Manhattan Project, America's most famous top-secret initiative, Oppenheimer presided over the assembly of the atomic bomb that helped end World War II. The legacy of the charismatic scientist would soon be tainted, however, by accusations of treason. Why did the country who once hailed Oppenheimer as a national hero suddenly turn their backs on him? Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn stars as Oppenheimer in a documentary profile of the man who would ultimately emerge as one of the 20th Century's most important, yet controversial figures.

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Air date: Feb 2, 2009

Documentary filmmaker Sarah Colt draws on personal accounts of polio survivors to trace the story of the tireless crusader who rallied a nation against a little known virus that spread terror through the town of Wytheville, Virginia back in the summer of 1950. It was an epidemic the likes of which Wytheville had never seen: Parents kept their kids locked safely indoors as movie theaters went dark and baseball fields fell silent for fear that simply walking outdoors would be enough to get infected with polio. Some died from infection, and others were left paralyzed as outsiders raced through town with bandanas over their faces and car windows securely rolled up. Over 33,000 Americans fell ill from polio that year alone, with approximately half of the infected being under the age of ten.

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Air date: Feb 9, 2009

This in-depth documentary explores the death of Abraham Lincoln, the first American president to be assassinated. Gunned down in the second month of his triumphant and markedly peaceful second term, Lincoln's death had tremendous effects on the shocked American populace, making waves in everything from cultural identity to the economy.

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Air date: Feb 23, 2009

A small town murder sparks landmark civil rights case, and the filmmakers of American Experience detail how one simple act of violence can affect the lives and legal standings of Americans from coast to coast by investigating the obscure court case that eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Edna, Texas: 1951. A field hand named Pete Hernandez was having drinks in a gritty cantina when an argument with his boss erupted into violence. When the dust settled, Hernandez's employer was dead. A court battle entitled Hernandez v. Texas ensued, in which a team of Mexican-American lawyers boldly stood up against Jim Crow-style discrimination against Mexican-Americans. The strategy of the prosecution was to prove that Mexican-Americans did not properly fit into a legal structure that only recognized blacks and whites. Mexican-Americans were, "a class apart," and as such would not be afforded the same rights as their fellow countrymen. In this documentary, filmmakers place the story of Hernandez v. Texas and its' central players within the context of history, examining the history of Latinos in American during an era of profound change.

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Air date: Apr 13, 2009

The five-part "We Shall Remain," which explores the Native-American perspective of American history, opens in March 1621 with "After the Mayflower," about the alliance the Wampanoag leader Massasoit struck with the Plymouth colonists. The deal succeeded, providing peace and trading opportunities between the two. Some 50 years on, however, war erupted, with Massasoit's son Metacom (also known as King Philip) leading his people against the colonists.

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Air date: Apr 20, 2009

"Tecumseh's Vision" recalls Shawnee brothers Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh. In 1805, Tenskwatawa -- considered a prophet -- had a vision that Indians should reject white culture. Tecumseh, in turn, led an alliance of tribes to stop the whites' westward push, as well as a partnership with the British during the War of 1812. The coalition he had forged, however, fell apart following his death in 1813 during the Battle of the Thames.

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Air date: Apr 27, 2009

"Trail of Tears" recalls the 1838 forced relocation of Cherokees from their ancestral lands in the southeastern U.S. to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Some 4000 Cherokees perished along the way. The documentary recalls the Cherokees' leaders John Ross and Major Ridge, who disagreed about whether the Cherokees should go or stay prior to the forced march, and a landmark Supreme Court case regarding tribal sovereignty.

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Air date: May 4, 2009

"Geronimo" relates the story of the legendary Chiricahua Apache warrior who, along with his small band of followers, was among the last Indian holdouts to reservation life until his 1886 surrender to U.S. forces. The military resistance he presented to the overwhelming force of the Mexicans and, later, the Americans, confounded both as well as some of his fellow Apaches, who saw futility in such efforts.

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Air date: May 11, 2009

"Wounded Knee" makes judicious use of archival footage and new interviews to tell the gripping story of the Feb. 27, 1973 takeover of a small South Dakota town on the Pine Ridge Reservation by some 200 Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement activists, who hoped to use the incident to redress past and current wrongs (the Oglala were unhappy with tribal chairman Dick Wilson). AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means, who both took part in the 71-day occupation, are among those interviewed.

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Air date: May 18, 2009

Stacy Keach narrates the story of America's first family. The chronicle, which features home movies, archival footage and photos, includes patriarch Joseph Kennedy's business and political dealings, John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential election and Robert F. Kennedy's tragic 1968 campaign, as well as Edward M. Kennedy's failed 1980 bid.

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