The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. , the six-part, six-hour series on African-American history, will premier on Tues., Oct. 22 with subsequent shows on Oct. 29, Nov. 5, 12, 19 and 26, 2013, 8-9 p.m. ET on PBS. The mini-series takes viewers on an astonishing journey from bondage to freedom and from slave quarters to the White House.
The journey begins in Africa and covers five hundred years since slaves were first transported to America, to shed new light on the transformative experience of being an African American. Gates, Alphonse Fletcher University professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, traveled extensively throughout the U.S., visiting historical sites, interviewing noted historians, as well as living eyewitnesses to some of remarkable features of the changing landscape of African-American history.
Gates, the executive producer and writer of the series, comments, “The story of the African-American people is the story of the settlement and growth of America itself, a universal tale that all people should experience.”
The website provides the following excerpts from brief overviews of each of the six-part series.
Episode One: The Black Atlantic (1500 - 1800)
Tues., Oct. 22, 8-9 p.m.
The Black Atlantic 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. This episode traces the impact of the transatlantic slavery trade that would give rise to plantation slavery in the South.
Episode Two: The Age of Slavery (1800 - 1860)
Tues., Oct. 29, 8-9 p.m.
The Age of Slavery illustrates how black lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the American Revolution. This segment reveals that 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, helping to create the momentum that would eventually bring the country to war.
Episode Three: Into the Fire (1861 - 1896)
Tues., Nov. 5, 8-9 p.m.
Into the Fire 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.
Episode Four: Making a Way Out of No Way (1897 - 1940)
Tues., Nov. 12, 8-9 p.m.
Making a Way out of No Way 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. “The Harlem Renaissance” offered opportunities not only to redefine how America saw African Americans, but how African Americans saw themselves.
Episode Five: Rise! (1940 - 1968)
Tues., Nov. 19, 8-9 p.m.
Rise! examines the long road to civil rights, when the deep contradictions in American society finally became unsustainable. This episode takes a look at events prior to 1955 when 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. whose assassination in 1968 unleashed a new call for “Black Power” across the country.
Episode Six: It’s Nation Time (1968 – 2013)
Tues., Nov. 26, 8-9 p.m.
This segment points out that despite the growing disparity between the black middle class and the black urban poor after 1968, African Americans of all backgrounds came together to support 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?
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross’ website includes video from the series, including all six full episodes for a limited run, as well as scenes not included in the films. In addition, the website will provide opportunities to participate in a number of social media platforms.
The accompanying video provides a trailer to introduce the series.
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