African american history

The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross with Dr Henry Louis Gates Jr

This is a PBS Broadcasting Network mini-series done by Dr Henry Louis Gates Jr, an American author, documentary filmmaker, essayist, literary critic and professor. He has done and continues to do amazing work when it comes to the research and preservation of African american history/studies. You can read more about him here “Henry Louis Gates Jr. – The Biography Channel” and here “Presidential Lectures: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Introduction”. He is also the editor of ‘The Root’, a highly informative website with a number of accomplished contributors who write about black news, opinion, politics and culture. I LOVE this site “The Root: Black News, Opinion, Politics and Culture”.

Here is a synopsis on the series from the official website: “The six-hour series explores the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed — forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds. Commencing with the origins of slavery in Africa, the series moves through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to the present — when America is led by a black president, yet remains a nation deeply divided by race” About the series. There is also a companion book (we LOVE books) and the DVD series is officially out now. The website is highly informative and interactive full of source material that did not make it into the official series.

This is a BRILLIANT series for those of us who are interested in the history of black peoples all over the world, from slavery to the Americas, Europe and Asia. What I loved the most about this series is the way it was presented by Dr Louis Gates Jr. The conversational style he used made me feel as though him and I were involved in a group discussion about African american history and not in a ‘lecture’ about it. Now, I’m not an African American but I appreciate the history. I learn more about it and from it everyday and this series showed me all the historical sites that I did not know about, as well as new facts from interviews with descendants, eye witnesses and top historians.

It also left me with a few questions;

1. Where are our historians? I don’t think I can think of one prominent South African historian and the work they do (I need some education here)

2. Where are our story tellers to collate information about our origins as South African people?

3. Where can I watch a series that will take me all the way back to the migration of my tribesmen (the Batswana), pre colonial and post colonial black life? (that delves deeper into where we were and what we were doing before the apartheid laws were passed, businesses, education etc)

It would be amazing to see a project like this come to life. I’ve been so inspired by this series to begin to look for the answers to the questions I’ve always had and to build on my knowledge. I’ve included links to the episodes and brief summaries of each episode below.

Enjoy 🙂


1. Episode One: The Black Atlantic (1500 – 1800)

Explores the truly global experiences that created the African-American people. Beginning a full century before the first documented “20-and-odd” slaves who arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, the episode portrays the earliest Africans, both slave and free, who arrived on these shores. But the transatlantic slave trade would soon become a vast empire connecting three continents. Through stories of individuals caught in its web, like a 10-year-old girl named Priscilla who was transported from Sierra Leone to South Carolina in the mid-18th century, we trace the emergence of plantation slavery in the American South. The late 18th century saw a global explosion of freedom movements, and The Black Atlantic examines what that Era of Revolutions — American, French and Haitian — would mean for African Americans and for slavery in America.


2. Episode Two: The Age of Slavery (1800 – 1860)

Illustrates how black lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the American Revolution. For free black people in places like Philadelphia, these years were a time of tremendous opportunity. But for most African Americans, this era represented a new nadir. King Cotton fueled the rapid expansion of slavery into new territories, and a Second Middle Passage forcibly relocated African Americans from the Upper South into the Deep South. Yet as slavery intensified, so did resistance. From individual acts to mass rebellions, African Americans demonstrated their determination to undermine and ultimately eradicate slavery in every state in the nation. Courageous individuals, such as Harriet Tubman, Richard Allen and Frederick Douglass, played a crucial role in forcing the issue of slavery to the forefront of national politics, helping to create the momentum that would eventually bring the country to war.


3. Episode Three: Into the Fire (1861 – 1896)

Examines the most tumultuous and consequential period in African-American history: the Civil War and the end of slavery, and Reconstruction’s thrilling but tragically brief “moment in the sun.” From the beginning, African Americans were agents of their own liberation — forcing the Union to confront the issue of slavery by fleeing the plantations, and taking up arms to serve with honor in the United States Colored Troops. After Emancipation, African Americans sought to realize the promise of freedom — rebuilding families shattered by slavery; demanding economic, political and civil rights; even winning elected office. Just a few years later, however, an intransigent South mounted a swift and vicious campaign of terror to restore white supremacy and roll back African-American rights. Yet the achievements of Reconstruction would remain very much alive in the collective memory of the African-American community.


4. 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. At the turn of the 20th century, a steady stream of African Americans left the South, fleeing the threat of racial violence, and searching for better opportunities in the North and the West. Leaders like Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey organized, offering vastly different strategies to further black empowerment and equality. Yet successful black institutions and individuals were always at risk. At the same time, the ascendance of black arts and culture showed that a community with a strong identity and sense of pride was taking hold in spite of Jim Crow. “The Harlem Renaissance” would not only redefine how America saw African Americans, but how African Americans saw themselves.


5. Episode Five: Rise! (1940 – 1968)

Examines the long road to civil rights, when the deep contradictions in American society finally became unsustainable. Beginning in World War II, African Americans who helped fight fascism abroad came home to face the same old racial violence. But this time, mass media — from print to radio and TV — broadcast that injustice to the world, planting seeds of resistance. And the success of black entrepreneurs and entertainers fueled African-American hopes and dreams. In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, heralding the dawn of a new movement of quiet resistance, with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its public face. Before long, masses of African Americans practiced this nonviolent approach at great personal risk to integrate public schools, lunch counters and more. As the civil rights movement scored one historic victory after another, non-violence was still all too often met with violence — until finally, enough was enough. By 1968, Dr. King, the apostle of non-violence, would be assassinated, unleashing a new call for “Black Power” across the country.


6. Episode Six: 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, but a growing class disparity threatened to split the black community in two. 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, vulnerable to new social ills and an epidemic of incarceration. Yet African Americans of all backgrounds came together to support Illinois’ Senator Barack Obama in his historic campaign for the presidency of the United States. When he won in 2008, many hoped that America had finally transcended race and racism. By the time of his second victory, it was clear that many issues, including true racial equality, remain to be resolved. Now we ask: How will African Americans help redefine the United States in the years to come?