The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, with Henry Louis Gates Jr., the most recent partnership between Gates and PBS, was unveiled Oct. 9 at a dinner reception and short screening at the National Press Club in Northwest Washington.
The six-part, six-hour series, set to air beginning Oct. 22, finds Gates, a Harvard scholar, delving into the evolution of African Americans and the “cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed,” according to a statement from PBS. The series covers the history of African Americans from the time the first Blacks arrived through the historic election of President Obama.
A short snippet of the series was shown at the Oct. 9 launch party, which also featured a buffet reception. The documentary clip was followed by a panel discussion between Gates and civil rights icons Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), NAACP President Emeritus Julian Bond and award-winning journalist and author Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first Black woman to attend the University of Georgia. The event also had a Q & A session with the panel members.
Gates told the audience that the series was the result of many hours of copious research, including interviews with many people who have studied or lived through pivotal events in Black American history. Forty historians contributed, he said. Of the many hundred subjects and events suggested by the historians, 70 stories are told.
During the panel discussions, each of the civil rights leaders recounted their individual experiences, including Lewis, who talked about the infamous attack by police on activists on what came to be known as Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
“I left some blood on that bridge,” Lewis told the audience. He also discussed with Gates his role in in the historic March on Washington 50 years ago.
The panelists lamented the lack of inclusion of African American history in lessons taught to children in school. Bond said he takes people on junkets throughout the South to expose them to people and places where Black history took place.
The series is the latest of several collaborations between Gates and public television, including Finding Your Roots in 2012, African American Lives in 2006 and African American Lives 2 in 2008 and Wonders of the African World in 1999.
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