If ever there were an academician with rock star status in Charlotte, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. fills the bill. His appearance at Spirit Square on Monday, September 30 drew an amazingly diverse and uniformly excited, sold out audience to hear about his latest documentary series, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” The program will be aired on area PBS television stations WTVI, UNC-TV and ETV in South Carolina on October 22, 2013.
Gates was recovering from a cold and preparing for the October 2 launch of Harvard University’s new Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, endowed by a North Carolinian. Even with all this on his plate, he flew in from Boston for a day to debut clips from the program for the first time to a public audience in Charlotte.
Charles Bowman, Bank of America’s North Carolina and Charlotte market president, indicated that the Spirit Square presentation was the last one of the day as Gates had addressed Bank of America staff earlier. Bank of America is the signature sponsor for this production.
The series of 6 episodes will cover 500 years of history with 70 stories, gleaned from thousands of suggestions from 40 noted historians. From “The Black Atlantic”, documenting the beginning of the African presence in the Americas in the 1500s to “It’s Nation Time” including the re-election of President Barack Obama, this promises to be an eye opener on the topic of Black History in the United States.
In an interview for the Examiner.com, edited for brevity and clarity, Dr. Gates spoke about what got him started.
1968, I was 17 years old, I was watching [Bill Cosby’s ‘Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed’] in our living room with my parents and it just opened up the whole world of Black History to me. I didn’t know anything about Black History. I knew about Booker T Washington and George Washington Carver and that was it. A year later, I took my first Black History course at Yale and the rest, as they say, is history.
Addressing his interest in producing documentaries, Gates stated,
I love doing documentaries because it’s a fantasy for me. It’s not my day job. My day job, I’m a teacher. Bank of America, in its wisdom, gave us a major donation which made this series possible so I’m beholden to them.
Looking to the future, Gates indicates,
I want to do a sequel to “Finding Your Roots.” That’s our franchise. So every year I want to do more and more people’s family trees and analyze their DNA. And now we can do things with DNA that didn’t even exist, that weren’t possible, when I did my first series with Oprah and Quincy Jones back in 2005. So that’s very exciting. But we’re going to do a sequel to “Blacks in Latin America.” We’re going to do a special program about Black people in the nation of Columbia and who knows what else? Probably I wouldn’t mind doing a sequel to this Black History series, because there are always more stories to tell.
Visit the interactive “Many Rivers to Cross” website for more information or to share your own story.