The Harvest Of Shame, 55 Years Later

For those of you that feel awful about yourselves due to your lavish Thanksgiving Day dinner, then here is one more for you to do so.

While we all scoffed and tossed out all the extra food because we just had to have a piece of every dish, we often forget about how that food gets to our tables, and who are the people that pick them.

Fifty five years ago, CBS and Edward R. Murrow ran The Harvest Of Shame segment the day after Thanksgiving. Americans were horrified at the conditions of migrant work.

At some points, it’s not like watching a world from 55 years ago. It almost seems that this story is centuries old by the survival methods these families have to endure.

It was one of those “feel guilty” pieces that the media can put together oh so cleverly. Yet sometimes, it is absolutely necessary. It was also so truthful and so impactful, that the prime time broadcast of a serious news story such as this took a backseat to sitcoms and game shows because, the public just hates to feel bad about itself.

My students often asked me what has happened to this cause – did wages get fixed? How come we rarely hear about it? Is everything OK now?

For the fiftieth anniversary, the story was briefly updated.

It’s a quiet issue usually these days. The faces are different – no longer white and black – as it is not more of an immigrant issue. Now the faces are Hispanic and Filipino. A 2000 National Agricultural Workers survey state that 93 percent are immigrants, and 65 percent are illegal.

There is no lobby for these people, as Murrow states. Not much has changed.

That study states that the average migrant worker has a sixth grade education and the median income is less than $10,000. The outdoor labor, constant travel and pesticide exposure has made the Department of Labor rank it as one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Cesar Chavez’s successes in the 1970’s seem to be disappearing.

What can you personally do about it? Likely not much. But you can make one contribution. You can watch the video and appreciate the great journalism, and accept some harsh information in your life without having to flip to a reality show about rich/stupid people doing rich/stupid things.

Happy Thanksgiving.



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