NPT’s ‘Education: The Key to Freedom’ premieres Feb. 24

Education: The Key to Freedom, the latest documentary in NPT’s Citizenship Project series, premieres on-air and online Thursday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. The 30-minute program chronicles the impressive strides by former slaves to gain an education in postbellum Tennessee and how that connection between education and freedom continued to drive efforts for reform and opportunity for the next century.

But it wasn’t a smooth or linear trajectory, despite promising developments like the 1956 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Education: The Key to Freedom looks at what it was like for young students bravely venturing into new situations while facing intimidation (or worse) from adults as opposition to integration remained intense.

Bobby Cain was one of 12 students tasked with integrating the formerly all-white Clinton High School outside of Knoxville in the mid-1950s. “I was disappointed because of my senior year. I would miss my prom and it was going to be a new adventure,” Cain says in the documentary. “I didn’t know that it was going to be an ordeal.” Even after the state guard arrived to control the crowd, the harassment Cain faced inside the school building continued.

In 1961, Dwania Kyles was one of 13 children who integrated the Memphis public schools. As she recounts in the documentary, years later she asked her father, if he’d make the same decision to send his young child into such a hostile environment. “It had to be done,” she recalls him replying. Her father, the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, was one of the men with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

“The children didn’t know who they could talk to, who might be sympathetic and understand what they were going through,” says University of Tennessee Knoxville professor emeritus Dr. Cynthia Fleming in the film. “So those people are the real heroes and heroines. It’s unbelievable to me that a child that age could do that much.”

Education: The Key to Freedom will re-air on NPT Sunday, Feb, 27, at 6:30 p.m. Airtimes on NPT2 are Saturday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 27, at 1 p.m. The documentary will be available for online viewing at

Education: The Key to Freedom was produced by NPT senior producer Ed Jones, whose credits include 2021’s Emmy-nominated The Fight to Vote: Black Voter Suppression in Tennessee, another Citizenship Project documentary. Programs in the series show how different groups have fought for, obtained, and maintained the rights and access commonly associated with American citizenship. These include the right to vote, the right to receive a public education, the right to be considered equal before the law, and the right to worship one’s religion of choice. The Citizenship Project programs are all online at

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