Detroit’s landscape is changing at a breakneck pace. In the face of progress, it can be easy to forget our history and the foundation upon which the city was built. PBS is honoring the past with its new three-part series Family Pictures USA.
The series follows photographer and filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris across the country as he interacts with everyday Americans who present their family photos and the stories behind them. “History isn’t just the artifacts in institutions,” Harris says. “It’s also the precious objects we hold in our hands and in our hearts.”
Some of the photos and albums are well over 100 years old. They tell tales of immigrants, migrants from the South and of people who were seeking better lives for themselves and their people. The often-forgotten histories of the Packard Motor Car Company, Coles department stores and the Ojibwe – one of the largest indigenous North American groups – are discussed in Episode 2, airing on Aug. 13 and set in Detroit.
No account of the city’s past is complete without acknowledging the contributions of Black Bottom. The once-affluent Detroit neighborhood was home to thriving black businesses and a growing middle class. It was completely demolished by the early 1960s.
“It’s all right there in the images – whole neighborhoods destroyed for ‘urban renewal,'” Harris explains. The program and Harris make a point, though, to also look forward to the new creatives and activists in the city, highlighting urban artistry and farming. He says, “The comeback city can’t be kept down.”
Family Pictures USA airs on PBS Aug. 12-13.