. I think its very fortunate that Dr. Gates created a teaching companion book with this series. I hope school teachers all over America pick this up and get rid of the historical nonsense they have been asked to teach for years. It will include 6hrs of DVDs
Writer and scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is behind the PBS show “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.”
BLACK HISTORY documentaries and dramatizations surface regularly on
television, but scholar and author Henry Louis Gates Jr. says his new
one for PBS takes a different tack.
“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” premieres Tuesday at 8
p.m. and runs for six weeks. It’s set up chronologically, with each hour
focusing on a defined era.
Tuesday’s opener, titled “The Black Atlantic,” covers 1500 to 1800. The
final episode, covering 1968 to the present, is titled, with just a
splash of irony, “A More Perfect Union.”
What sets “Many Rivers” apart, says Gates, is that it covers “the full
complexity of the black experience. This isn’t just about slavery. It’s
also about the lives and contributions of free blacks.
“African Americans have always been two peoples with two stories — one
slave, one free. I found it startling, as we’ve put this series
together, how little most people know about that other story.”
The first episode, Gates notes, also expands the story of slavery and
free blacks outside the borders of what would become the U.S.A.
The overwhelming majority of African slaves, millions in all, were sent
elsewhere in the “New World.” At the same time, one of the most
successful Spanish “conquistadors” was a black man, African-born Juan
“If you want to understand the full scope of the black experience, you
have to know stories like this,” says Gates, and “Many Rivers” follows
that principle, telling its larger stories through individual
Norman Rockwell depicted the
history-changing walk by the 6-year old Ruby Bridges in his iconic
painting entitled “The Problem We All Live With." It appears inthe PBS
show “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.”
It follows teenagers and preteenagers from their enslavement to the
often unexpected destiny of their own lives and those of their
This part of “Many Rivers” dovetails neatly with another of Gates’
projects: his PBS genealogy series that tracks the ancestry of blacks
and whites with surprising results.
For the black experience specifically, Gates says one dirty little secret is crucial.
“Not one person in any of our genetic tests has ever been 100% African
American,” he says. “No matter how dark their complexion, there’s always
some white blood.
“That collective and public information is part of the story we’re telling.”
“Many Rivers” does have at least one thing in common with every other black history documentary, Gates allows.
“We don’t have time to tell as much of the story as we’d like to,” he
says. “We’re covering 500 years in six hours and there’s always so much
you have to leave out.”
But this is the digital age, so the “Many Rivers” project can include
additional material on its website, which is also interactive for
viewers to add their own stories.
There will also be educational DVDs and a companion book of the same title, written by Gates and Donald Yacavone.