Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.— who served as executive producer, host, and writer for “The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” —learned this week that his six-part documentary won the highest honor in broadcasting: a Peabody Award.
“This is a great victory of all of us that love African-American history and those of us that want to see it become an explicably intertwined part of American culture,” Gates said in a statement on TheRoot.com. “This took five years and is a great victory for our ancestors and their sacrifices, and they should be celebrated every day in a school curriculum, and my hope is that the DVD will be used in every classroom from kindergarten to college.”
For the first time in its 73 year history, the Peabodys were announced live on television. CBS This Morning broke the news, naming the winners for the best work in TV, radio, and Internet storytelling, Gates, who chairs the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, shared his elation with the rest of the jury – poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker and historian Simon Schama. Each sent their congratulations. Gates, who wrote that he was “ecstatic,” celebrated by taking in a Knicks game.
Other winners include the comparable PBS series “Latino Americans” and Michele Norris’ Race Card Project. Read the entire list of winners here.
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: