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American Experience is TV's most-watched history series and brings to life the compelling stories from our past that inform our understanding of the world today.
Based on the book The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, The Codebreaker reveals the fascinating story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, the groundbreaking cryptanalyst whose painstaking work to decode thousands of messages for the U.S. government would send infamous gangsters to prison in the 1930s and bring down a massive, near-invisible Nazi spy ring in WWII. Her remarkable contributions would come to light decades after her death, when secret government files were unsealed. But together with her husband, the legendary cryptologist William Friedman, Elizebeth helped develop the methods that led to the creation of the powerful new science of cryptology and laid the foundation for modern codebreaking today.
On Easter Sunday, 1939, contralto Marian Anderson stepped up to a microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Inscribed on the walls of the monument behind her were the words "all men are created equal." Barred from performing in Constitution Hall because of her race, Anderson would sing for the American people in the open air. Hailed as a voice that "comes around once in a hundred years" by maestros in Europe and widely celebrated by both white and black audiences at home, her fame hadn't been enough to spare her from the indignities and outright violence of racism and segregation. Voice of Freedom interweaves Anderson's rich life story with this landmark moment in history, exploring fundamental questions about talent, race, fame, democracy, and the American soul.
In 1946, Isaac Woodard, a Black army sergeant on his way home to South Carolina after serving in WWII, was pulled from a bus for arguing with the driver. The local chief of police savagely beat him, leaving him unconscious and permanently blind. The shocking incident made national headlines and, when the police chief was acquitted by an all-white jury, the blatant injustice would change the course of American history. Based on Richard Gergel's book Unexampled Courage, the film details how the crime led to the racial awakening of President Harry Truman, who desegregated federal offices and the military two years later. The event also ultimately set the stage for the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which finally outlawed segregation in public schools and jumpstarted the modern civil rights movement.
Explore the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of one of the most beloved, enduring, and classic American narratives. By 1900, when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, Baum was 44 years old and had spent much of his life in restless pursuit of success. With mixed results, he dove into a string of jobs — chicken breeder, actor, marketer of petroleum products, shopkeeper, newspaperman, and traveling salesman — Baum continued to reinvent himself, reflecting a uniquely American brand of confidence, imagination, and innovation. During his travels to the Great Plains and on to Chicago during the American frontier's final days, he witnessed a nation coming to terms with the economic uncertainty of the Gilded Age. But Baum never lost his childlike sense of wonder. Eventually, he crafted his observations into a magical tale of survival, adventure, and self-discovery, reinterpreted through the generations in films, books, and musicals.
Billy Graham explores the life and career of one of the best-known and most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century. From modest beginnings on a North Carolina farm, Graham rose to prominence with a fiery preaching style, movie-star good looks, and effortless charm. His early fundamentalist sermons harnessed the apocalyptic anxieties of a post-atomic world, exhorting audiences to adopt the only possible solution: devoting one's life to Christ. Graham became an international celebrity by age 30 who built a media empire, preached to millions worldwide, and had the ear of tycoons, royalty, and presidents. At age 99, he died a national icon, estimated to have preached in person to 210 million people. Billy Graham examines the evangelist's extraordinary influence on American politics and culture, interweaving the voices of historians, scholars, witnesses, family, and Graham himself to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of a singular figure in the American experience.
When Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor as the Supreme Court's first female justice in 1981, the announcement dominated the news. Time Magazine's cover proclaimed "Justice At Last," and she received unanimous Senate approval. Born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas, O'Connor grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona in an era when women were expected to become homemakers. After graduating near the top of her class at Stanford Law School, she could not convince a single law firm to interview her, so she turned to volunteer work and public service. A Republican, she served two terms in the Arizona state senate, then became a judge on the state court of appeals. During her 25 years on the Supreme Court, O'Connor was the critical swing vote on cases involving some of the 20th century's most controversial issues, including race, gender, and reproductive rights — and she was the tiebreaker on Bush v. Gore. Forty years after her confirmation, this biography recounts the life of a pioneering woman who both reflected and shaped an era.
In the 1930s, William Randolph Hearst's media empire included 28 newspapers, a movie studio, a syndicated wire service, radio stations, and 13 magazines. Nearly one in four American families read a Hearst publication. His newspapers were so influential that Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Winston Churchill all wrote for him. The first practitioner of what is now known as "synergy," Hearst used his media stronghold to achieve unprecedented political power, then ran for office himself. After serving two terms in Congress, he came in second in the balloting for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904. Perhaps best known as the inspiration for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and his lavish castle in San Simeon, Hearst died in 1951 at the age of 88, transforming the media's role in American life and politics. The two-part, four-hour film is based on historian David Nasaw's critically acclaimed biography, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst.
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