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Full Program Description

Skin Deep
Racial oppression is challenged in the United States and South Africa
Original broadcast: Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 9pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)


"Going to the voting booth was like going to a very private chapel. There were elements of great joy, of knowing that this is a victory, this is a burial of something very evil. . . . What was also an element of great sadness was knowing that I was doing something which my father couldn't do."
-- The Reverend Michael Weeder, South Africa


Skin Deep examines the fight against legal, institutionalized racism in the United States and South Africa, from the 1950s through the 1990s, through interviews with the people who took their protests against segregation and inequality into the streets and beyond, forcing remarkable changes onto reluctant governments -- often at a very high personal price.

In 1948, South Africa became unique among nations by writing segregation into the law of the land. The architects of apartheid took comfort in the fact that racial segregation was also found in the world's greatest democracy -- the United States.

The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 claimed the lives of dozens of black South Africans demonstrating peacefully against apartheid. Hundreds more were wounded and dozens killed in Soweto almost twenty years later. Violence escalated throughout the 1980s, and the South African government found itself increasingly isolated as the fight for racial equality was taken up around the world. By decade's end, domestic and international pressure would force President F. W. De Klerk into negotiations with the African National Congress (ANC), setting the stage for the unconditional release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela, free elections, and the dissolution of apartheid.

Half a world away, in the United States of the early '60s, the Civil Rights Movement was reaching its apex. After years of public protest -- from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides to the March on Washington -- President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodations, education, and employment. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., protesters marched on Montgomery, Alabama demanding the right to register to vote. Soon after, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, outlawing discrimination in voter registration. The struggle against racism would persist in the US throughout the twentieth century, but by 1965 its legal underpinnings were officially undone.

The people remember: Apartheid, Soweto uprising, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Civil Rights Bill (1964), African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, desegregation, Little Rock Arkansas Nine, lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Riders, Selma, March to Montgomery, Voting Rights Act, voter registration.

Skin Deep is produced and directed by Marian Marzynski, and written by Marian Marzynski and Prexy Nesbitt. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

Alfre Woodard narrates.



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