Boston TV News

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Primary sources offer viewers a glimpse into the particular time and place they were created. The resources in this collection use primary source footage from Boston TV news outlets to connect students to events that occurred in the late 20th century, covering a range of topics in American history, including civil rights, the environmental movement, and the rating of rock lyrics.

  • Reaction to the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

    Citizens gather at a public rally in Boston, Massachusetts, following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., in this archival news footage from April 1968. One speaker featured in the footage states that King had been “prepared to give his life for justice in America” in Boston and in the various cities King had visited throughout the South. Another speaker talks about America’s unwillingness—not its inability—to end racism, questions the meaning of “law and order,” and calls violence the “inevitable outcome of oppression.”

    This video is primary source footage and has not been extensively edited.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Breaking the Gender Barrier in Little League, 1974

    Ten-year-old Janine Cinseruli, her mother, her brother, and some neighborhood boys answer questions about whether girls should be allowed to play Little League baseball in this 1974 archival news footage from WGBH. Janine says most boys don’t care if girls play baseball as long as they’re good at it. The boys interviewed say they agree but express concerns about physical contact with female players. Janine’s mother, who helped Janine file a complaint that ultimately led to a court case, says her daughter has been practicing with boys for years and should be allowed to play.

    This video is primary source footage and is presented as originally recorded.

    Grades: 3-12
  • Boston Desegregation Controversy, 1974

    Citizens demonstrate at Boston’s City Hall Plaza against the mandatory busing of students to schools outside of their neighborhoods in this 1974 archival news footage from WGBH: "Evening Compass." The demonstrators, made up of parents and children and led by local politicians, hold signs targeting Senators Edward Kennedy and Edward Brooke and Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. for their support of this policy, which was designed to desegregate schools. While protestors indicate that previous demonstrations were peaceful, the footage shows this demonstration ending with shouting, thrown objects, and property damage to a government building.

    This video is primary source footage and is presented as originally taped.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Boston Desegregation Four Years Later, 1978

    A teacher, an administrator, and students describe the learning environment four years after desegregation was mandated in the Boston public school system in this 1978 archival news footage from WGBH. The long-term effects of desegregation were still largely unknown, but the hatred and fear that characterized the previous few years were beginning to dissipate. Black and white children were going to school together and getting along. In the predominantly white South Boston neighborhood (known as “Southie”), protestors no longer met the school buses that arrived each day with black children brought in from outside neighborhoods.  While the need for a police presence at schools was greatly reduced, the big problem at South Boston High School was now low and sporadic attendance.

    This video is primary source footage and is presented as originally recorded. It includes graffiti of language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Oil Crisis, 1979

    This archival news footage from Northeast Historic Film shows scenes of gas stations during the 1979 oil crisis. When operating, the gas stations faced long lines of cars that one customer suggested stretched about a half-mile long. When the stations were closed, signs in front reflected the country’s supply shortage at the time—for example, “Our pumps are closed” and “No gas.” A station owner explains that regulating hours of operation was necessary to keep stations open throughout the month. An attendant blames “the papers” for causing customers to panic.

    This video is primary source footage and has not been extensively edited.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Racial Profiling Case, 1990

    This 1990 archival news footage from WGBH records black leaders from Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood speaking angrily about what they believe was a racially motivated murder investigation. Activist ministers Don Muhammad and Graylan Hagler express their anger at police investigators and public officials, whom they think ignored vital information in the investigation. Muhammad and Hagler extend blame to media reporters, whom the leaders say were too easily taken in by “the dreadful hoax” perpetrated by the actual killer, the murdered woman’s husband.

    This video is primary source footage and is presented as originally recorded.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Environmentalist Bill McKibben, 1990

    Environmentalist Bill McKibben speaks about humanity's relationship with nature in this archival news footage from 1990. At an Earth Day celebration, McKibben discusses how modern lifestyles are intertwined with climate change and environmental problems.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Law Student Barack Obama, 1991

    This archival news footage from 1991 shows scenes from a rally held at Harvard Law School at which Barack Obama, a law student at the time and president of the Harvard Law Review, introduces Professor Derrick Bell. Some of the banners in the background read “Harvard Law School on Strike for Diversity,” “Diversity Now,” and “No More Excuses.” In his speech, Professor Bell notes the significance of his appointment two decades earlier as the first tenured African American professor, before chiding the school for its overall “past racist hiring record.”

    This video is primary source footage and has not been extensively edited.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Analyzing Primary Source Media

    In this self-paced interactive lesson, students examine primary source media—specifically, news footage carried on Boston television channels over the last five decades. Like historians who analyze documents, photographs, and other primary sources to learn more about the people, issues, and events of the past, students watch news footage on subjects including the 1979 oil crisis, the 1974 Boston school desegregation controversy, and affirmative action. They practice three steps—observe, interpret, and question—to analyze the media. For a final assignment, they select footage and write an essay or blog post that contains their analysis and reflects their understanding of the content in its historical context.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Using Primary Sources to Connect the Past and Present

    Drivers wait in long lines at gas stations because of shortages resulting from the oil crisis in this 1979 television news footage from the Northeast Historic Film Archive.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Frank Zappa on Rating Rock Lyrics

    This 1985 television news footage from WGBH features a talk given by musician Frank Zappa at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government shortly after he had made similar remarks in testimony before the U.S. Senate. Zappa was challenging an attempt to restrict access to and otherwise censor the content of popular recordings and cites issues of free speech as well as the inherent difficulties in any of the proposed solutions.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Winnie Mandela on Raising Children Under Apartheid

    This 1990 news footage from WGBH documents a speech given by South African antiapartheid activist Winnie Mandela at Boston’s 12th Baptist Church. In her remarks, Mandela emphasizes how 300 years of racial discrimination had impacted the black South African community. She places special emphasis on the deprivation of children and speaks movingly of Hector Pieterson, one of thousands of black South African children who had been killed during the decades of resistance to apartheid.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Voting Patterns in Five Boston Neighborhoods

    This 1983 television news footage from WGBH provides an analysis of Boston’s mayoral election on the eve of that city’s primary vote. By dividing the city into five neighborhoods, and by examining both the racial/ethnic/class composition of these divisions and historical patterns of voter registration and participation, the analysis suggests significant shifts from previous municipal elections and provides an example that can be used for a classroom discussion of local elections in your own area.

    Grades: 9-12

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