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The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross

Airs Saturday, March 22, 2014 from 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Norman Rockwell depicted the history-changing walk by the six-year old Ruby Bridges in his iconic painting entitled “The Problem We All Live With.”

KPBS will rebroadcast all six episodes in an AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS marathon on Saturday, March 22, 2014, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

This six-hour series chronicles the full sweep of African-American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent through more than four centuries of remarkable historic events up to the present. Presented and written by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the series draws on some of America’s top historians and heretofore untapped primary sources, guiding viewers on an engaging journey across two continents to shed new light on the experience of being African American. Among those interviewed are Kathleen Cleaver, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Congressman John Lewis, civil rights activist Diane Nash and more.

Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

During PBS’ THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wed., Aug. 7, 2013, civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (pictured) discuss the chronicle of the African-American experience.

Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

During PBS’ THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wed., Aug. 7, 2013, civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault (right) and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (left) discuss the chronicle of the African-American experience.

Kunhardt McGee Productions, WNET & Inkwell Films in association with Ark Media

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Ruby Bridges at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans during the filming of THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro

In 1934, Joel Augustus Rogers, a highly regarded journalist in the black press, published a remarkable little book of 51 pages titled "100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof: A Short Cut to the World History of the Negro." I have been intrigued by this book, and by its author, since I first encountered it as a student in an undergraduate survey course in African-American history at Yale, taught by the venerable American historian, William S. McFeely. Fifty of the 100 Amazing Facts will be published on THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS website. Read all 100 Facts on The Root.

Share Your Stories

African-American history has played an integral role in the shaping of politics, economics, and culture in the United States. Growing up, how did you learn about the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans? Were you in a classroom? Reading a book? Talking with relatives or friends? How has your understanding or knowledge of African-American history changed and/or developed over time? What do you think is the most effective way to pass along this rich and growing history to future generations? Share now or explore submissions.

Connect

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is on Facebook, and you can follow @HenryLouisGates on Twitter.

Episode One: "The Black Atlantic (1500-1800)" airs Saturday, March 22 at 9:30 a.m. - “The Black Atlantic” explores the global experiences that created the African-American people. Beginning a century before the first documented “20-and-odd” slaves who arrived at 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. Through stories of individuals caught in its web, the episode traces the emergence of plantation slavery in the American South and examines what the late 18th-century era of revolutions — American, French and Haitian — would mean for African Americans and slavery in America.

Episode Two: "The Age of Slavery (1800-1860)" airs Saturday, March 22 at 10:30 am. - “The Age of Slavery” 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.

King Cotton fueled the rapid expansion of slavery into new territories and the forcible relocation of African Americans to the Deep South. Yet as slavery intensified, so did resistance. From individual acts to mass rebellions, African Americans demonstrated their determination to undermine and ultimately eradicate slavery.

Episode Three: "Into the Fire (1861-1896)" airs Saturday, March 22 at 11:30 a.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 brief “moment in the sun.” From the beginning, African Americans were agents of their liberation — by fleeing the plantations and taking up arms to serve in the United States Colored Troops.

After Emancipation, African Americans sought to realize the promise of freedom — rebuilding families shattered by slavery; demanding economic, political and civil rights; even winning elected office — but a few years later, an intransigent South mounted a swift and vicious campaign of terror to restore white supremacy and roll back African-American rights. Yet the achievements of Reconstruction remained in the collective memory of the African-American community.

Episode Four: "Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940)" airs Saturday, March 22 at 12:50 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 opportunities in the North and West.

Leaders like Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey organized, offering different strategies to further black empowerment and equality. The ascendance of black arts and culture showed that a community with a strong identity and sense of pride was taking hold in spite of Jim Crow. “The Harlem Renaissance” redefined how America saw African Americans — and how African Americans saw themselves.

Episode Five: "Rise! (1940-1968)" airs Saturday, March 22 at 2:10 p.m - “Rise!” 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. The success of black entrepreneurs and entertainers fueled African-American hopes and dreams.

In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, heralding the dawn of a movement of resistance, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its public face. Before long, masses of African Americans practiced this nonviolent approach to integrate public schools, lunch counters and more. Nonviolence, however, was often met with violence. In 1968, Dr. King was assassinated, unleashing a new call for “Black Power” across the country.

Episode Six: "A More Perfect Union (1968-2013)" airs Saturday, March 22 at 3:20 p.m. - 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.

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many hoped that America had finally transcended racism. By the time of his second victory, however, it was clear that many issues, including true racial equality, remain to be resolved. How will African Americans help redefine the United States in the years to come?

African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross - Preview

This six-hour series chronicles the full sweep of African-American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent through more than four centuries of remarkable historic events up to the present. Survey the full sweep of African-American history with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Tuesday, October 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Priscilla, a Slave

Priscilla was purchased at a slave auction in South Carolina by a rice planter, Elias Ball. She arrived on the Ball's rice plantation in 1756. In her time, South Carolina had more black slaves than it did white citizens. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. meets Edward Ball, the fifth great grandson of Elias, and tours the old plantation, discussing Priscilla and early slavery in the United States.

America's Earliest Africans

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses two of the earliest Africans to arrive in North America---free men who journeyed to this continent a century before the first Africans who arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Both were explorers who found hope and opportunity in this new land. But things changed quickly for those who followed them.

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