African-American history is explored in new documentary

Slavery played a critical role in America’s economic development. That’s one of several messages this enlightening six-part documentary delivers. The kind of polished, intelligent series that PBS does so well, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” expertly traces the origins of slavery in Africa up to present day.


Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Ruby Bridges at the Harriet Tubman Charter School in New Orleans, during the filming of “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”  Photo Credit: Ark Media Associate Producer Nicole Bozorgmir

Written and presented by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a literary critic and cultural historian who has spent his career researching African American history; it’s filled with historical artifacts. Engaging and thought provoking, Gates, with his expansive knowledge of history, takes viewers on a journey through history starting in 1500, a full century before the first documented slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.

From individuals like a 10-year-old girl named Priscilla who was transported from Sierra Leone to South Carolina in the mid-18th century, to the earliest Africans, both slave and free who first arrived on American shores, no historical stones are left untouched as it highlights the tragedies, triumphs and contradictions of the black experience.

Gates, who served as a consultant on the movie “12 Years a Slave” visits key historical sites, partakes in debates with some of America’s top historians and interviews living eyewitnesses including school integration pioneers Ruby Bridges, former Black Panther Kathleen Neal Cleaver, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Photo credit: Peter Simon

There are numerous historical documentaries that focus on the plight of African Americans and the slave experience, but none is so brilliantly conceived as this series.  Split in six parts, each episode focuses on an era and takes you behind the facts to understand the major events in America history and the triumphs and trials of African Americans.

One of the most complete documentaries on the subject of slavery, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” is an intense presentation of history and a significant journey through time.” “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,” says Gates.


“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” will air its remaining episodes November 5, 12, 19 and 26, 2013, 8-9 p.m. ET on the American broadcast television network PBS (check local listings).

by Samantha Ofole-Prince

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