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The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

 PBS, airs in October and November (2013)

The ubiquitous Henry Louis Gates wrote and hosts this stimulating, panoramic six-part series tracing the five centuries of African-American life in all its varieties and differences. It is a profound, often eye-opening journey. uprooted Africans began the task of re-creating themselves in the New World by preserving core folkways from their homes—despite slaveowners’ attempts to stamp them out—while blending in aspects of their new home’s culture. After the Revolution, free blacks in cities like Philadelphia discovered upward mobility, while enslaved Southern blacks powered the rapid territorial growth of King Cotton. gates depicts African Americans as the restless force behind the union’s decision to make slavery its central cause in the Civil War, analyzes the creation and effects of Jim Crow laws, and so on through the great Northern Migration, Harlem Renaissance and long struggle for civil rights up to the present day. As gates puts it, the country is still “unresolved” about true racial equality. Rich with historical detail, intelligent revisionism, unexpected perspectives and individual stories, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is an epic worthy of its complex and painful subject.


Originally published in the December 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.