In the 1980’s Tunica County, Mississippi was the poorest place in America. Sugar Ditch was the poorest neighborhood in that county. The all-black community was comprised of shacks surrounding an open sewer just feet away from a wealthy white Baptist church. In 1986, a sociological study of Sugar Ditch was completed by an all-female team. This feature documentary will follow original members of that team along with leading female activists Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald of The Children’s Defense Fund and Civil Rights lawyer Barbara Philips as they revisit the families of the Sugar Ditch community to understand how this region became one of the most potent symbols of American poverty and why neighborhoods like Sugar Ditch still exist across the nation.
Sugar Ditch epitomized the Deep South’s racial and economic problems after it gained national attention when 60 Minutesfeature called it “Apartheid in America.” The exposure lead to the neighborhood’s destruction by the local government. But then in the mid 90’s, in an effort to aid the economy, the local government brought casinos into the area, but continued to ignore the people that needed them the most. Despite the large black population, most of the county’s land was owned by a few white families much the way it had for generations. In 2015 The Washington Post reported that in Tunica, “The public high school has a 57 percent graduation rate, compared with 79 percent nationally. One in four people don’t have bank accounts, one of the highest rates in the country. The average lifespan in Tunica, at 67 for men and 73 for women, remains shorter than nearly anywhere else in the United States — or El Salvador.” RETURN TO SUGAR DITCH tells the story of how greed, government inaction, and white indifference have converged to create an American crisis.