Thanksgiving

Builders,

I have only one personal Thanksgiving tradition. I reserve one uninterrupted hour to watch the CBS/Edward R. Murrow documentary “Harvest Of Shame.” It is considered by many to be the high water mark of television documentaries. Murrow cashiered his entire news career to make it and see it broadcast. It is an unflinching look at destitute and impoverished workers providing food for our nation of plenty.  It originally aired the day after Thanksgiving, 1960.

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Like The Grapes of Wrath 21 years earlier, Harvest of Shame was attacked as socialist propaganda. In the 54 years since it has been broadcast, the documentary has been called many things, with the notable exception of being called untrue.

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If you have never seen it, it can be found at this You Tube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJTVF_dya7E

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Murrow delivers a harsh message; They selected a deeply moving American composition to accompany the title: Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”. There is a 3:14 excerpt from it at this link, The segment from the documentary is at 2:20 :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiLTwtuBi-o

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Poverty does not have a color or a language in Harvest of shame. It defied stereotypes and generalizations.

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“This scene is not taking place in the Congo. It has nothing to do with Johannesburg or Cape Town. It is not Nyasaland or Nigeria. This is Florida. These are citizens of the United States, 1960. This is a shape-up for migrant workers. The hawkers are chanting the going piece rate at the various fields. This is the way the humans who harvest the food for the best-fed people in the world get hired. One farmer looked at this and said, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.” – E.R. Murrow, opening statement to Harvest of Shame.

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Several months ago I spoke with two little boys, seven or eight years old, outside a local convenience store. They were putting a chain back on a rusty bicycle. It was 8 am on a Sunday. Neither one had eaten anything since the day before. I went inside and got each of us an apple and a banana. They ate theirs right away.

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A man standing in line, dressed well enough that he was probably on his way to church, made a point of telling me in front of a half-dozen people that “you can’t help those people they choose to live that way.”

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I stood a foot away from him and looked him in the face and asked him to explain to everyone how a seven year old boy is to be held accountable for the poverty he lives in. He wisely chose to leave without offering any further social wisdom.

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