The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
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The African Americans: Many Rivers To Crossis a six-part, six hour primetime PBS series scheduled for national broadcast in fall 2013. The broadcast will begin October 22 and continue weekly through November 26. It will be the first documentary film series to chronicle the full sweep of African American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent, through the arrival of black conquistadors in North America in the 1500s, to the disembarking of twenty slaves in Virginia in 1619, and onward--through almost four hundred subsequent years of historic events to 2008, when Barack Obama became the United States’ 44th President.

Building upon existing research and drawing from recent scholarship, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will guide viewers on an engaging journey across continents and centuries to shed new light on the experience of being African American. Contrary to what is commonly thought, the road to freedom for blacks in America was not linear, but instead, like the course of a river, full of loops and eddies, with progress slowing (often suddenly) and at times, reversing. African American history encompasses multiple locations and venues, and must be viewed though a transnational perspective to be fully understood. 


Part One: The Worlds the Slave Trade Made/October 22, 2013
Part One explores the origins of the slave trade, the diversity of the 388,000 African people shipped directly to the United States, and the social, cultural, and economic worlds slavery created in Africa, the Atlantic, the Caribbean, Latin America, and colonial North America. The episode will examine slavery in the North, slavery in the South, and slave rebellions in 1739 South Carolina and 1741 New York City.

Part Two: The Age of Revolutions/October 29, 2013
The American, French, Haitian, and industrial revolutions of the 18th and early 19th centuries led to the birth of the anti-slavery movement and the phenomenal growth of plantation slavery in the American South. The episode will examine the cotton boom, the domestic slave trade, and the westward movement of African Americans, as well as the deepening of a genuine slave society which forged an increasingly distinct African American people.

Part Three: From Slavery to Freedom/November 5, 2013
This episode will examine the Civil War and Reconstruction as American’s first great racial reckoning, and the “rebirth” of the African American people. History will be told through the experiences of black people who triumphed and failed—heroic black soldiers and their families, black leaders of Reconstruction, and Freedmen slaughtered by the Ku Klux Klan. It will also tell the story of those who built schools and churches, were elected to higher office, bought property, and thrived in the face of incredible obstacles.

Part Four: Jim Crow and Modernity/November 12, 2013
Part Four will follow the rise of Jim Crow following Reconstruction, the twilight years of Frederick Douglass, and the age of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey. The episode will examine the birth of ragtime and jazz, James Reese Europe, Jack Johnson, Josephine Baker, and the Harlem Renaissance. The film will chart the emergence of “the race,” its “progress,” travails and failures.

Part Five: Hard Times and Hope/November 19, 2013
The period of the Great Depression and World War II was a period of tremendous upheaval, tremendous suffering, and tremendous rebirth in the black community. This episode will trace black efforts during the war, the integration of the armed forces by Truman, and profile individuals including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Joe Louis, Lena Horne, the Tuskegee Airmen, Constance Baker Motley, Adam Clayton Powell and Marian Wright Anderson. The episode will conclude with the emergence of Martin Luther King and the birth of the Civil Rights movement.

Part Six: From Black Power to the White House/November 26, 2013
Episode six will take the African Americans through the era of Dr. King and the Civil Rights revolutions, cast as the deep aftermath of World War II. The episode will examine the various stages of “rights” from Black Power to the Black Panthers, the birth of Affirmative Action, and the creation of the black middle class. The episode will also examine deepening inequality within the African American community and the astonishing growth of incarceration and out of wedlock birth rates. The episode will conclude with the election of President Barack Obama. 

Additional Resources


Educator Resources


PBS Website

Major corporate support for The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is provided by Bank of America. Additional corporate funding is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and McDonald’s.

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