PBS premieres the Ken Burns documentary East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story March 24. The film looks at a housing project opened by the Atlanta Housing Authority in 1970 and demolished in the mid ‘90s. Sarah Burns and husband David McMahon directed and produced the documentary. Sarah Burns is the daughter of Ken Burns, who executive produced it.
Built on the former practice golf course of the Atlanta Athletic Club, which had moved north as part of the white flight that was impacting Atlanta and other cities, East Lake Meadows quickly became home to many thousands of low-income Atlantans, mostly African American.
The project became known as “Little Vietnam” for all the crime and violence in the community.
“Shoddy construction and a lack of funding left the project and surrounding landscape in disrepair and led to a rapid decline in the quality of life,” said PBS. “As public housing developments in Atlanta and across the country were further abandoned and stigmatized, and as a drug epidemic swept through cities, East Lake Meadows became nearly uninhabitable.”
“We began this film as an exploration of place,” said Sarah Burns. “We quickly realized, though, that while the film is very much about public housing, and its promises and shortcomings, it is really about the stories of the families who called East Lake Meadows home. They raised their children there, celebrated birthdays and holidays and fought to protect their homes and their futures. The story of East Lake is really the story of their lives.”
East Lake Meadows tells the stories of more than a dozen families who lived in the community.
“East Lake Meadows, like many public housing projects across the country, was designed to house those with the greatest needs,” said McMahon. “But the story reflects the racial bias that allowed society to neglect the housing and the community, and then blame the residents for the poor conditions that arose from that disinvestment. Residents shared with us their stories of resilience, trauma, hard work and finding joy despite the challenging conditions.”
East Lake Meadows is a production of Florentine Films and WETA Washington, D.C.
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