“Hunger is easy to recognize when it looks like this.”
That line, about 50 seconds into the video below, lands like a jab to the jaw—just as intended. The baby you see there was born in San Antonio. As the narrator drops that line, the baby is barely breathing, and only with the help of a doctor who is carefully performing CPR. “This baby is dying of starvation,” the narrator continues. “He was an American. Now he is dead.”
So opens the 1968 CBS documentary “Hunger in America”—with a chilling, almost unwatchable scene of a baby dying from lack of food due to poverty. Can you imagine that scene airing today? On Netflix or HBO, perhaps. But not on network TV.
The hourlong special focuses on four American cities, beginning with San Antonio, which is featured in the first 20 minutes. CBS aired the documentary in May of that year, five months before HemisFair ’68. While San Antonio was busy putting on its best face for the world, CBS threw down the gauntlet, juxtaposing shots of the fairgrounds and a freshly expanded River Walk with images of the dilapidated homes on the West Side. There, we learn, “half the city’s population” lives “in what city officials refer to as ‘poverty tracts.'”
I’ve been told by several locals who were around in 1968 that the documentary lit a fire in San Antonio. If you can bear to watch it now, you’ll see why.