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The Intolerable Burden cover photo

The Intolerable Burden 2002

Highly Recommended

Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Constance Curry
Directed by Chea Prince
VHS, color, 88 min.



Sr. High - Adult
African American Studies, Education, History, Political Science

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Using archival films, still photography and interviews, this outstanding documentary examines the meaning and consequences of institutional racism in a poor, rural town in Mississippi during the past fifty years. Based on her book Silver Rights, producer Constance Curry describes the resolve and courage [that places] one family's desire for a better education into the larger context of the civil rights movement of the 1960's. The film is a powerful oral history and visual record of how racism affected one family and one town, but with patterns that can be seen throughout the entire nation.

When Mae Bertha and Matthew Carter, sharecrop farmers in Drew, Mississippi, enrolled seven of their thirteen children into formerly all-white schools during the fall of 1965, it was in response to the local school board’s “freedom of choice” policy giving all families an option of selecting which school would be attended. Resistance to the Carter’s decision was both subtle and overt but when it became violent, the Carter’s filed a lawsuit claiming that the freedom of choice policy placed an intolerable burden on African American families and the Drew public schools were desegregated. The resulting “white flight” to private academies demonstrates how difficult the struggle to deal effectively with an inequitable public education system continues to be.

The film is divided into three sections—segregation, integration, and resegregation—with each part concentrating on how Drew, Mississippi and the Carter family were affected. A short epilogue briefly examines the connection between education and incarceration and how little has changed for the poor in rural America. The historical film footage and interviews provide a powerful record of the visible signs of racism, the effect on individuals and institutions, and the consequences of personal and administrative decisions on the lives of the people involved and the society as a whole. Highly recommended especially for U.S. history students.