As rave reviews continue to come in for last week’s debuts of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’s The Busing Battleground and The Harvest: Integrating Mississippi’s Schools, films that capture the class tensions and racial violence as schools in Boston and rural Mississippi attempted to desegregate in the 1970s, GBH is keeping the conversation going.

To bring in more perspectives on desegregation efforts from cities and towns across the nation, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has launched a novel new project Pain and Promise: Remembering the Fight for School Integration with StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. Their hope is that highlighting these experiences can inform today’s discussions about race, equity and education.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE worked with public media stations across the country to recruit storytellers, who were recorded by StoryCorps facilitators. 

“Stories from 56 couples in four cities — Boston, Chicago, Nashville and Seattle — shine a light on the challenges of desegregating schools across the country,” said Diane Buxton, senior project manager with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. “Everyone seemed to be touched by it in some way.” Buxton interviewed more than 100 people who were interested in telling their stories for posterity. All of the stories collected can be found here and more will roll out weekly throughout the fall. Stories are available in a variety of formats, including full 50-minute audio interviews, as well as documentary-style and animated digital shorts. The AMERICAN EXPERIENCE website has a suite of extras, including digital shorts, essays and more.

“We collected stories from students, teachers, administrators and community members. We had multigenerational conversations, with children interviewing their parents about what they went through,” said Buxton. “We tried really hard to be as inclusive as possible and put a lot of energy into reaching out to people of color and historically excluded groups outside of the Black and White binary.”

“Among the interviews is an animated conversation between identical twins from the 'Memphis 13' who were among the first 13 Black children to enroll in Memphis’ historically White schools,” she said. “I choke up every time I watch it. It was so humbling and wonderful when people told us that they feel that they have been heard.”

They provided sister stations in the four cities with social media artwork, email templates and radio and TV language tailored specifically for them, said Buxton. They also contacted people who were interviewed for but not filmed in The Busing Battleground and featured some of their audio stories in the Pain and Promise collection. 

GBH and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE are developing educational materials that will be available on PBS LearningMedia and hosting events to encourage community conversations about issues of race and equity this year and next, commemorating the 50th anniversary of forced busing for desegregation in Boston.

“We can’t wait for people to hear these stories and talk to each other about their own experiences,” said Cameo George, executive producer of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.

“I hope that GBH can be a catalyst and inspire people to take action,” said Buxton. “I hope we’ll all learn something from these stories and that history will not repeat itself.”

Watch and learn more about the films here. Both films can be streamed on the PBS app.