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Murrow's 'Harvest of Shame' Still Resonates - Especially with These Two Sisters
November 22, 2018  | By TVWW Guest Contributor  | 6 comments

[Editor's note: On Thanksgiving Day in 1960, CBS Reports premiered a one-hour documentary, hosted by Edward R. Murrow, called Harvest of Shame, about the plight of migrant workers harvesting our crops. At New Jersey's Rowan University, where I teach TV history, I show it every term -- and this time, two of my students had such a personal reaction to it that I asked them to share their thoughts in this Thanksgiving Day post. -DB]

By Ayala and Arielle Gedeon

My sister Arielle and I are a tag team. When it comes to completing tasks at Rowan University, you usually cannot get one without the other.

Put it this way: Do you have a persistent grandma on Thanksgiving, who often gives you a double serving of every side? In the classroom, you’ll get a double serving of us. That’s why we are enrolled in Prof. David Bianculli's Television History and Appreciation course at Rowan together.

In the usual format to his class, Prof. B will start off with the traditional dad joke, while students trickle into the King Auditorium. For whatever reason it may be, this night's particular lecture was different. This time, that lecture became one of those times where my sister and I could directly connect it to one of our personal experiences.

In class that evening, we watched migrant workers and the tribulations they faced in the 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame, presented by Edward R. Murrow. Our class got to view this documentary in its entirety, learning of the migrants' plight to find work during the harvesting season. The initial showing of Harvest of Shame in the Sixties was the first time millions of Americans saw accounts of these migrant workers. I would not be surprised if this also was the first time my college peers have seen the sorrow these people faced. However, this was not the case for Arielle and me.

This past summer, we volunteered at a local blueberry farm in Hammonton NJ to help teach English to migrant workers from Haiti. Our parents were also Haitian immigrants, trying to achieve the American dream -- and both achieving their U.S. citizenships, in 1999 and 2007 respectively. They met in Miami, Florida, where we were born, and settled in South Jersey in 2004, where we live today. Understanding the struggles that immigrants can face, we like to volunteer in any way that we can. It’s important to us to give compassion to those less fortunate.

Our mentor, Kathy Coulibaly, drove us up to the Hammonton Variety Farms. We would drive through the open fields on a dusty path. On arrival, you could hear the rapid Haitian Creole being spoken, see the trailers the workers lived in, and you could smell the Haitian cuisine, which was very familiar to us.

We set up a makeshift classroom in the middle of the field, where we had lesson plans, water, and writing utensils set out for them. At one point, you could see the beautiful sunset over the blueberry fields as they started to take their seats, ready for their lessons.

At the start of each class, the migrant workers would line up eagerly showing us their name tags, which they had kept in pristine condition since the beginning of their school year. We then handed them a chair, and they would set up not too far from the “teacher’s desk.” The teacher was our mentor, and while being fluent in French, she also was able to teach the workers things in English, like the months of the year, parts of the body, how to say their birthday, and so much more. Seeing the excitement in their eyes as they grasped the concept of what they learned still makes us tear up today.

Being both first-generation Haitian-Americans and college students, we empathized with their struggle, and in those short weeks tried to help them in every way that we could. Lectures like the one Prof. B taught us spoke true of the struggles of the American people and the development of better conditions that were soon to come, but only for some.

Thanksgiving is upon us -- and, like millions of other Americans, we will go home and partake of dinners that we are very fortunate to have. But today, as when Murrow and CBS televised Harvest of Shame in 1960, it's important to remember how so many items on our holiday plates were harvested. And by whom, and under what conditions.

Happy Thanksgiving.


[Editor's postscript: Ayala and Arielle Gedeon are scheduled to graduate in 2021. I expect great things. - Prof. B]

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Dory Dickson
Ayala and Arielle, If you are on schedule to graduate this year, please send me a message via Facebook or email. I'd like to keep up with both of you!
Jan 8, 2021   |  Reply
Thanks for sharing your story. You are an immense asset to Rowan and your community. I wish you only the very best in your future endeavors. You should be very proud of yourselves. I certainly know that your parents are.
Nov 28, 2018   |  Reply
Great essay and congrats on truly exceptional work in the field!
Nov 27, 2018   |  Reply
Thank you for sharing your story and talents. You two are examples of the best people we all should strive to be to make our little corner of the world a better place. You make the future bright! All my best to you both!!
Nov 25, 2018   |  Reply
Harvest of Shame is available, in full (52 min) on YouTube.
Nov 24, 2018   |  Reply
Arielle and Ayala, it was great having the two of you help with our outdoor evening English classes! I read your above essay with great interest.
Nov 22, 2018   |  Reply
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