By Chris Byrd
NEW YORK (CNS) –The second season of the engaging and fascinating PBS history docuseries “10 That Changed America” premieres Tuesday, July 10, 8–9 p.m. EDT. The second and third episodes of the three-part series will air in that time slot Tuesdays July 17 and 24. But air times may vary in some PBS markets.
A production of Chicago affiliate WTTW, “10” is journalistic road trip, which explores how various structures shaped American history. While the 2016 series examined homes, parks and towns, the new season investigates the impact of streets, monuments, and marvels on our society.
Chicago actor and personality Geoffrey Baer hosts the series, which Dan Protess produced and wrote. “10” largely utilizes historians, curators, guides and critics’ commentaries to tell the its stories. But paintings, drawings, evocative photography and archival film footage, as well as some computer animation, also augment the narrative.
Each episode reviews its subjects in chronological order. The first takes viewers from Broadway in New York, its Native American roots dating back to the 1600s, to Michigan’s Kalamazoo Mall, which was established in 1959. As the documentarians perceptively point out, innovative road designs such as these connected people to new residential settlements and commercial opportunities.
There is a darker side to the program, however. Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for instance, was once the site of a violent disturbance.
The discovery of oil in Oklahoma in 1901, the film explains, created wealth for African-Americans living on Greenwood Avenue. The thoroughfare became known as the “Negro Wall Street.”
On May 30, 1921, after a black man was accused of attacking a white elevator operator, white men machine gunned African-American World War II veterans who were trying to stop a lynching. And airplanes burned the street’s buildings by dropping turpentine on them. The Tulsa Race Riots, as they’re now known, devastated Greenwood Avenue beyond recovery.
In the second episode, viewers begin their sojourn at the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The monument, which honors soldiers who died in one of the earliest battles of the Revolutionary War, was completed in 1843.
This installment also includes a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Dedicated in 2000, the memorial pays tribute to victims, rescuers and survivors of the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
The 10 “modern marvels” dealt with in the third episode include the nearly 400-mile-long Eerie Canal, which opened Oct. 26, 1825, and the greater New Orleans Hurricane & Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, built in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Besides a fleeting image of artistic nudity, the series touches on such mature themes as terrorism, racial violence, AIDS and homosexuality. Taken together these elements suggest an adult audience, though the program’s educational value may make it suitable for older adolescents as well.
A congenial, inquisitive guide, Baer has the good sense not to obtrude on the series’ stories, which allows viewers to appreciate each one’s unique details.
“10,” moreover, doesn’t shrink from controversy. But it doesn’t provoke it unnecessarily, either. In fact, the program provides viewers with welcome relief from the prevailing atmosphere of incivility, while also reminding them what American ingenuity can accomplish.
Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.