Harvest of Shame

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Harvest of Shame
DVD cover of Harvest of Shame
Format Documentary
Directed by Fred W. Friendly
Produced by Fred W. Friendly
Edward R. Murrow
David Lowe
Starring Edward R. Murrow
Country USA
Language English
Original channel CBS
Release date November 25, 1960
Running time 55 min.

Harvest of Shame was a 1960 television documentary presented by broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow on CBS that showed the plight of American migrant agricultural workers. It was Murrow's final documentary for the network; he left CBS at the end of January 1961, at President John F. Kennedy's request, to become head of the United States Information Agency. An investigative report intended "to shock Americans into action", it was "the first time millions of Americans were given a close look at what it means to live in poverty" via their televisions.[1]

The program was an installment of the television documentary series CBS Reports, widely seen as the successor to Murrow's highly regarded 1951-58 CBS program, See It Now. Murrow's close associate, Fred W. Friendly, who co-produced See It Now, was the executive producer of CBS Reports. Their colleague, Edward P. Morgan, had taken up the issue of migrant labor in his CBS Radio Network commentaries. Morgan’s assistant had visited Senator Harry F. Byrd’s Northern Virginia farm during the apple harvest and was outraged by the conditions of the migrant laborers working there. According to Murrow biographer Joseph Persico, Friendly decided that the issue was a natural for Murrow, long seen as a champion of the oppressed.

While Murrow and Friendly are often seen as the forces behind the show, broadcast historians such as the late Edward Bliss, Jr. have also given credit to "Harvest of Shame" producer/reporter David Lowe. Lowe did much of the legwork, including a number of the interviews featured on the installment.

The program originally aired just after Thanksgiving Day in November 1960. The December 5, 1960 edition of Time quoted producer Lowe as saying,

"We felt that by scheduling the program the day after Thanksgiving, we could stress the fact that much of the food cooked for Thanksgiving throughout the country was picked by migratory workers. We hoped that the pictures of how these people live and work would shock the consciousness of the nation."

It opened and closed with lines that were typical Murrow. The opening was voiced over footage of migrant workers, including a number of African-Americans, being recruited:

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."

Murrow's closing words:

The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation. Maybe we do. Good night, and good luck."

After Murrow joined the National Security Council as a propagandist, his position did lead to an embarrassing incident shortly after taking the job, when he asked the BBC not to show Harvest of Shame, in order to not damage the European view of the USA, however the BBC refused as they had bought the programme in good faith.[2] British newspapers delighted in the irony of the situation with one daily Daily Sketch writer saying: "if Murrow builds up America as skillfully as he tore it to pieces last night, the propaganda war is as good as won."[3]


  1. ^ "In Confronting Poverty, 'Harvest Of Shame' Reaped Praise And Criticism". NPR. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  2. ^ "Edward R. Murrow, Broadcaster And Ex-Chief of U.S.I.A., Dies". New York Times On This Day. 1965-04-28. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  3. ^ Balough, Brian. "Harvest of Shame, Reviewed in Time, March 31, 1961". HIUS 316: Viewing America, the United States from 1945 to the Present. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 

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