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African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross


6 episodes, 60 minutes each
Source: PBS Video

Written and narrated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this documentary 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.

  1. The Black Atlantic (1500-1800)
    This episode explores the global experiences that created the African American people. Beginning a century before the first documented “20-and-odd” slaves came to Jamestown, Virginia, the episode portrays the earliest Africans, slave and free, who arrived on these shores. The transatlantic slave trade soon became a vast empire connecting three continents.

  2. The Age of Slavery (1800-1860)
    The second episode illustrates how black lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the American Revolution. For free black people, these years were a time of opportunity, but for most African Americans, the era represented a new nadir. Yet as slavery intensified, so did resistance.

  3. Into the Fire (1861-1896)
    Survey a tumultuous period in African American history: Civil War, slavery’s end, and Reconstruction.
  4. Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940)
    During the Jim Crow era, African Americans struggled to build their own worlds within the confines of segregation. At the turn of the 20th century, a steady stream of African Americans migrated away from the South, fleeing racial violence and searching for better opportunities in the North and the West. At the same time, there was an ascendance of arts and culture, such as The Harlem Renaissance.
  5. Rise! (1940-1968)
    This episode examines the long road to civil rights, when the deep contradictions in American society finally became unsustainable. African Americans who fought fascism in World War II came home to face the same old racial violence. But mass media — from print to radio and TV — broadcast that injustice, planting seeds of resistance.

  6. It's Nation Time (1968-2013)
    After 1968, African Americans set out to build a bright future on the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement’s victories, but a growing class disparity threatened to split the black community. As African Americans won political office across the country and the black middle class made progress, larger economic and political forces isolated the black urban poor.

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