The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow offers the first comprehensive look at race relations in America between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. This definitive four-part series documents a brutal and oppressive era rooted in the growing refusal of many Southern states to grant slaves freed in the Civil War equal rights with whites. A life of crushing limitation for Southern Blacks, defined by legal segregation known as "Jim Crow" - after a minstrel routine in which whites painted their faces black - shaped the social, political and legal history of the period. In 1954, with the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Jim Crow laws and way of life began to fall.
The story of the struggle during Jim Crow is told through the eyes of those who experienced it. Some are historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells and Walter White. Others are everyday local heroes like William Holtzclaw, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Ned Cobb, "Pap" Singleton and Barbara Johns.
Program One: Promises Betrayed (1865 - 1896) How did Jim Crow begin? As Reconstruction ended, African Americans' efforts to assert their constitutional rights began to be repressed at every turn, betraying the promises of Emancipation. Southern whites were embolden by the North's withdrawal of support for Black access to land, civil and economic rights, and due process in law and politics. Whites passed laws that segregated, divested and disfranchised African-Americans -- laws that were enforced with violence and terror. This episode recounts the Black response by documenting the work of such leaders as anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells and the emergence of Booker T. Washington as a national figure.
Story by Richard Wormser Telescript by Bill Jersey Produced by Sam Pollard Directed by Bill Jersey
Program Two: Fighting Back (1896 - 1917) Episode two illustrates the early rise of a successful Black middle class and the determination of white supremacists to destroy fledgling Black political power. The growing oppression had a profound effect on a professor at Atlanta University, W.E.B. Du Bois, and a teenage mail carrier named Walter White. Both would become leaders of a newly founded organization to fight Jim Crow: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The episode ends with the violence at home giving way to warfare abroad as thousands of Black Americans depart for battle in World War I.
Written, Produced and Directed by Richard Wormser
Program Three: Don't Shout Too Soon (1917 - 1940) In the aftermath of World War I a new round of race riots and lynching broke out, yet this was also a time of increasing strength for Black resistance movements. Episode three chronicles the years between the wars as a time of massive Black migration out of the South and continuing conflict within it. By the 1930's many African-Americans found their sole support from Socialists and Communists, who helped organize tenant farmers and sharecroppers and defended the "Scottsboro Boys," nine Black youths falsely accused of rape. While NAACP counsel Charles Houston began a lengthy legal campaign designed to chip away at Jim Crow, Walter White waged war in the court of public opinion. As the world plunged toward World War II, Black labor leaders like A. Philip Randolph demanded an end to segregation in defense industries. Singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson declared that, "Change is in the air."
Written, Produced and Directed by Bill Jersey
Program Four: Terror and Triumph (1940 - 1954) Episode four examines the surge of Black activism that took place after World War II. Black veterans returned from the war determined to achieve the same rights at home that they had fought for in Europe in a Jim Crow army. One vet, Medgar Evers, became an organizer for the Mississippi NAACP; he was assassinated for his work in 1963. In Georgia, John Wesley Dobbs, head of the Black Masons, organized the first voter-registration drives. Predictably, whites again answered Black demands for equality with violence. But this time, President Truman responded with a civil rights initiative and integrated the Army. Southern Democrats split from the Democratic Party forming the States Rights Party.
But slowly the national mood was changing. Barriers fell in sports and entertainment. Here, for the first time on film, those who had been high school students in Farmville, VA reconstruct their historic walk-out and protest against segregated and inadequate education. They galvanized the community to join in an NAACP lawsuit that was combined with four other NAACP suits across the country to become Brown v. Board of Education. The landmark Brown decision irreparably breached the legal basis for Jim Crow, and through that opening soon poured the legions of the Civil Rights Movement.
Written and Directed by Bill Jersey and Richard Wormser Produced by Richard Wormser, Bill Jersey and Sam Pollard
Producer and director Bill Jersey has credits in both fiction and nonfiction works. Notably, he was the Art Director for the movie The Blob before moving into nonfiction work. Among his works are A Time for Burning, The First Fifty Years: Reflections on U.S.-Soviet Relations, Faces of the Enemy, and Superchief: The Life & Legacy of Earl Warren. He has received several Emmy and Academy Award nominations for his work as well as a duPont-Columbia Silver Baton award.
William Grant, currently the Director of Science, Natural History, and Features Programs for Thirteen/WNET New York, has had a prolific career as an editor, producer, and journalist. As an executive producer, Grant has worked on several films including Stephen Hawking's Universe, Echoes from the White House, and On the Trail of Mark Twain, among other. He was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1970-80.
A co-production of Quest Productions, VideoLine Productions and Thirteen/WNET New York. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of its Diversity Initiative. Additional funding was provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The series' corporate sponsor is New York Life.
"Essential educational viewing... disconcerting, illuminating and riveting. Highlights a history of betrayed promises and civil disobedience, of racial terror and aspiration, of faith and nihilism."
Wall Street Journal
"Must see! Even more powerfully than The Civil War or Eyes on the Prize, it demonstrates why we can't hope to understand current issues of race and prejudice without facing up to our own ungodly brutal past."
"Highlights the richness and diversity of African American reactions to segregation, showing how even in the worst depths of racism, the struggle for freedom persisted."
William H. Chafe, Duke University
"A thought-provoking documentary which will inspire viewers to re-examine our understanding of democracy as well as our thoughts about racism and social injustices. This is a film that all America should see because without comprehending its content we have no way of fully understanding who we were and, by extension, who we are."
James Anderson, University of Illinois
"A powerful and dramatic documentary on Black life under Jim Crow which captures its horrors, brutality and power in graphic detail while maintaining a central focus on how African Americans endured, resisted and challenged the system."
Pat Sullivan, Harvard University
"An excellent series that serves as a top-notch prequel to the Eyes on the Prize series. Highly recommended."
"The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow should be mandatory in every classroom."