Our editor Glenn created this video for PBS' Annual Meeting, held May 14 this year in Denver. When we were there, we wanted to show off some of our successes from last year and get people excited about what's to come next year. Now, we can't show you anything for next year quite yet, (check back with us in a couple of months!) but here's our minute-long recap from last season...
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War -- five decades ago President John F. Kennedy signed the National Security Action Memorandum and significantly increased military aid to South Vietnam. This Memorial Day marks the official kickoff of events honoring that anniversary, though if you looked around, you might not know it. In a Boston Globe article last Sunday Brian Bender hit the nail on the head, noting that few events have been planned and necessary corporate funding for such events has been lackluster at best.
"Friendships are born on the field of athletic strife and the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust." –Jesse Owens
In 1936 African American sprinter Jesse Owens amazed the world by breaking Olympic records and winning four gold medals in Berlin, the headquarters of Hitler's Nazi regime. However, in classic Olympic fashion, Owens became known not only for his athletic triumphs, but for his epic embrace with Aryan German competitor Luz Long and for the social barriers he broke down in the face of Hitler's Nazi regime. Rather than protesting "Hitler's Games," Owens used his position in the spotlight to display the greatness and compassion that can be achieved outside of the political and cultural constraints of society.
These are not random occurrences in Olympic history -- they are the defining moments through which one can view world history, politics, and humanity. The contrast between tensions often displayed between countries at the Olympics and solidarity between Olympians is a strong virtue of the Games that can be seen not only in Owens' case, but also throughout Olympic history.
Like many other stories from Olympic Games that took place in times of political or cultural strife, Jesse Owens' story is remarkable on its own. Still, it can be expanded to teach lessons about the general atmosphere of the Olympics as well as lessons about the cultural, social and political situation the world might be in as athletes gather to compete against and support one another every four years at the Olympics. Here are some of the most prominent Olympic controversies:
1908 - The Grand Duchy of Finland competes separately from the Russian Empire, and Ireland separately from Great Britain, but both breakaway groups are prohibited from displaying their respective flags.
1908 - John Taylor becomes the first African American athlete to win a gold medal.
1912 - A decathlon silver medalist refuses to accept his medal after the gold-medal winner was unjustly denied his medal.
1916 - Olympic Games are cancelled due to outbreak of World War I.
1919 - Location of 1920 Games is changed from Budapest to Antwerp to avoid affiliation with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the losers of World War I.
1920 - Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Turkey, the losers of World War I, are not invited to participate in the Olympic Games.
1932 - Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi is deemed ineligible to compete because he is considered a professional athlete. Despite his disqualification, Nurmi travels to the Olympic Village to continue training. In a display of solidarity, his peers in the Olympic marathon stand behind Nurmi and beg to have the ban against him lifted, but to no avail.
1936 - Debates arise around the world as to the morality of attending the Olympics in Berlin under the Nazi regime. Jesse Owens famously becomes the first African American athlete to win four gold medals. This feat was made even more famous as it was rumored to have infuriated Hitler, the proponent of an Aryan nation. Owens' visible camaraderie with German competitor Luz Long further intrigues the world.
1940 & 1944 - Olympic Games are cancelled due to World War II.
1948 - Germany and Japan are not invited to compete, while the Soviet Union opts not to attend, despite having been invited
1956 - During the infamous "Blood in the Water" match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, athletes and spectators at a water polo match turn violent due to the Soviet Union's recent invasion of Hungary.
1964 - South African athletes are banned from competing in the Olympics because of the widespread Apartheid in their country.
1968 - Two African American medalists perform the "Black Power" salute during the national anthem to symbolize black pride and unity in the face of racism. At the same time, Australian silver medalist Peter Norman stands in solidarity with his black co-medalists by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights.
1972 - Eleven Israeli athletes are taken hostage and then murdered by members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September in an attack related to the mounting tensions in the Middle East.
1980 - At the height of the Cold War's reawakening, 62 countries fail to attend the Olympics in Moscow, many out of protest over Russia's controversial invasion of Afghanistan.
What would you add to the list?
Jesse Owens premieres on PBS Tuesday, May 1, 2012.
Rose Just-Michael is a student at Brandeis University and an intern at AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
American Experience, television's longest-running and most-watched history series, was honored this morning with a George Foster Peabody Award, widely considered the most prestigious award for electronic media. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience is produced by public broadcaster WGBH Boston and airs on PBS stations nationwide.
Three American Experience films were singled out to represent the series’ body of work: Triangle Fire, telling the story a deadly workplace accident that forever changed the industry of the American factory; Freedom Riders, recounting the bravery of black and white Americans who took a stand against racism in one of the Civil Rights Movement's first decisive victories; and Stonewall Uprising, documenting 1969 protests that marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around theworld. These three documentaries will be honored under the banner of American Experience as a series.
“Only at WGBH would we be able to create films like these that tell the stories of ordinary people working to improve the unfolding project that is America,” said Executive Producer Mark Samels. WGBH Vice President for National Programming Margaret Drain added, “We are thrilled that one of WGBH’s signature series is being recognized with television’s most prestigious award.”
The Peabody Awards will be formally presented at a luncheon ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on May 21. Sir Patrick Stewart, star of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Macbeth, will be the host. The Peabody Awards recognize excellence and meritorious work by radio and television stations, networks, webcasters, producing organizations and individuals. The 16-member Peabody Board is a distinguished panel of television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts. Selection is made by the Board following review by special screening committees of UGA faculty, students, and staff.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
While hitchhiking across the United States in 1940, popular folk singer Woody Guthrie heard Irving Berlin's God Bless America on the radio repeatedly, which describes the "land that I love," complete with mountains, prairies and "oceans, white with foam." With traditional lyrics that tell Americans to "swear allegiance to a land that's free" and to "all be grateful for a land so fair", the patriotic song harshly juxtaposed the economic inequalities that Guthrie was witnessing in the aftermath of the Great Depression. In response, Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land, claiming repeatedly "this land was made for you and me."
Like many other Americans, learning This Land is Your Land was an integral part of my elementary school education and formation of my American identity. As a young child, I only learned the first and second verses and the chorus. I was surprised to learn that Guthrie had originally penned additional, more radical verses that were excluded from the popular recording that I heard as a child:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
These extra verses, which were never recorded and surfaced only in the late 1990s, reflect Guthrie's personal fight for equality for America's working class at a time when the working class was greatly suffering.
When Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land in 1940, he was already a celebrated folk singer. The popular version of the song (that did not include these verses) established Guthrie's public role as the "American balladeer". At the Grand Coulee Dam, the Bonneville Power Administration was looking for a songwriter who could promote the inexpensive electricity produced by the dam, which many people saw as a catalyst for economic prosperity in the Pacific Northwest. Guthrie was the obvious choice, and over the course of 30 days, he ended up writing 26 songs about Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia River.
The lyrics of the most popular song of this project, Roll On, Columbia, Roll On, promote the public power that is created by the dam:
Roll on, Columbia, roll on, roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on, Columbia, roll on.
With both a literal meaning (the creation of electricity), and a metaphorical meaning (transforming a poverty-stricken region into a prosperous one), the idea of "turning our darkness to dawn" illustrated Guthrie's support for suffering Americans and gave them hope for a brighter future. Several iconic American musicians have followed in Guthrie's footsteps -- Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen have all written songs highlighting the plight of America's working class in modern times while simultaneously providing hope for a more prosperous future.
At the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to Guthrie by performing "This Land is Your Land," including all of Guthrie's original verses.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
Grand Coulee Dam premieres on PBS Tuesday, April 2.
Anna Bick is a student at Tufts University and an intern for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.