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Hopefully you’ve been able to view Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” on PBS.
The series began Oct. 22 and will conclude Nov. 26. If not, it’s not too late to learn our history through the eyes, heart and soul of a man who has made teaching America about African American history his life’s work.
This six-part series takes viewers on an unprecedented journey through African American history, from slavery to freedom, and from the plantation to the White House.
Although the series is not presented in a highly dramatic manner, and falls more on the academic side, it is no less fascinating. Of course, from the time the African stepped foot on this continent there were no photographs etc., but the artist renderings depicting the plight of the African is no less dramatic. As our story progresses, the visuals get more dramatic, and you wonder what Gates is feeling when he actually steps foot on the ground, home, or battlefield where history took place.
One scene in particular comes to mind—a historian shows Gates a little cupboard in a home where an escaped full-grown slave had hidden. Visually you could tell how small it was when Gates could barely get his head in to take a closer look. His interaction, and reactions add a great deal to the series.
Professor Gates traveled throughout the United States, visiting key historical sites, enjoying lively debates with some of America’s top historians, and interviewing living eyewitnesses including school integration pioneers Ruby Bridges and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, former Black Panther Kathleen Neal Cleaver, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and many more.
Here is what to expect on the upcoming shows: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 8-9 p.m., Episode Four—“Making a Way Out of No Way” (1897-1940) portrays the Jim Crow era, when African Americans struggled to build their own worlds within the harsh, narrow confines of segregation. As hundreds of African Americans won political office across the country and the Black middle class made unprecedented progress, larger economic and political forces isolated the Black urban poor in the inner cities, and rendered them vulnerable to new social ills and an epidemic of incarceration.
Tuesday, Nov. 19, 8-9 p.m., Episode Five: “Rise!” (1940-1968) examines the long road to civil rights, when the deep contradictions in American society finally become unsustainable. Beginning in World War II, African Americans who helped fight fascism abroad came home to face the same old racial violence.
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 8-9 p.m., Episode Five: “A More Perfect Union” (1968-2013). After 1968, African Americans set out to build a bright new future on the foundation of the civil rights movement’s victories.
“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” website (http://www.pbs.org/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/) will include video from the series, including all six episodes for a limited run, as well as scenes not included in the films. In addition to video, the website will elaborate on and the explore the rich history covered in the series with text, timelines, images and other multimedia including a collection of graphics featuring quotations from well-known African Americans for individuals to share on a number of social media platforms. The site also features a blog by Gates that highlights 100 interesting and unexpected facts from African American history; and invites viewers to submit and browse stories about and reactions to significant moments in history. The website will offer visitors the chance to personalize their experiences and share series content. “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” airs on PBS SoCal/KOCE and KLCS/Channel 58. When you visit the website, please click on ‘check local listings’ to get the various times both stations offer.
Gail can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.