If you follow Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Twitter or Facebook, you are probably already privy to the bevy of heavy hitters he has recruited for his new PBS series, “The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross,” premiering Oct 21. The six-part documentary features names as varied as the Black Panther Party’s Kathleen Cleaver to Roots’ drummer Questlove. Gates has mentioned that he is particularly proud of procuring the insights of General Colin Powell.
The chair of the Anisfield-Wolf book awards serves executive producer, host and writer for the series, using his unparalleled knowledge of African-American history (and access to some of the nation’s foremost historians) to flesh out what most history books only skim. The series aspires to document the entire 500-year history of African-Americans, from the beginnings of the slave trade to the present-day occupant of the White House.
In a recent interview, Gates said this series was 40 years in the making. His inspiration for “The African Americans” was the 1968 program, “Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed,” hosted by Bill Cosby, a seven-part look at the unheralded contributions of blacks in film, science and other endeavors. Gates’ series is a deeper dive into narratives much enhanced by leading historians, including former Anisfield-Wolf winners Ira Berlin, David Eltis and Annette Gordon Reed.
After the premiere on October 21, a new hour-long episode will air each Tuesday until the finale on November 26. Join us on Twitter as we tweet with Gates during each episode, using the hashtag #ManyRiversPBS. Catch a peek at the first episode with this two-minute video on a slave girl simply known as Priscilla: