WLRN celebrates Black History Month with a four hour block of prime time programming looking at the last fifty years of African American history in BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE, a new documentary by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In this new four-hour series, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. joins leading scholars, celebrities and a dynamic cast of people who shaped the last five decades of African American history. Gates travels from the victories of the civil rights movement up to today, asking profound questions about the state of black America—and our nation as a whole.
Sunday February 12th at 8pm
Almost every schoolchild today learns about the civil rights movement — about how our nation moved itself forward, against the will of many, out of a shameful past. It’ s a story of great courage and sacrifice — of people who came together in struggle, willing to pay the ultimate price. It’ s also, ultimately, a story of great success: black Americans are no longer forced to the back of the bus, or strung up by lynch mobs. Yet what has happened since? This is where the story gets more complex — where we step out of the sanctified past, and into the raw, conflicted present.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
The series begins at a crucial turning point in American history: the Selma marches that led to the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the urban rebellion that broke out in Watts just a few days later. Watts marked a new phase in the black struggle, revealing that our nation’ s racial issues were not confined to the Jim Crow South — and that true equality would not come through laws alone. African Americans wanted access to better jobs, housing and education, and an end to police brutality, and they felt emboldened to try new strategies for achieving those goals.
MOVE ON UP
The second hour dramatizes the diverging paths for African Americans that emerged in the 1970s and early ‘ 80s, as well as the outbursts of white backlash that marked these years. We see how the civil rights era propelled a growing portion of black America into true upward mobility, allowing them to join the middle class and move to affluent suburbs. On a parallel path, black politicians began to enjoy success not seen since Reconstruction. At the same time, white America’ s tolerance for black success was starting to wear thin.
Continuing his journey, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reveals profound fissures within the country — and within black America — that deepened through the 1980s and 90s, just as African Americans were becoming more visible than ever.
Sunday February 19th at 8pm
KEEP YOUR HEAD UP
In the third hour, Gates visits his old friends Oprah Winfrey and Bob Johnson, who blazed astonishing trails during this era, reaching levels of success that Dr. King would never have imagined possible. Yet he also talks with Reverend Al Sharpton, who recalls the desperate fight mounted within poor black communities against a terrifying new scourge that was tearing lives and families apart: crack cocaine.
At the same time, Gates shows how many Americans, dazzled by the prominence of black superstars from Bill Cosby to Michael Jackson, and surrounded by compelling evidence of a well-established black middle class, were becoming convinced that racial inequality had been vanquished for good. The era’s racial flashpoints called this view into serious doubt, however. The controversial Rodney King and O.J. Simpson verdicts, and the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas— which Gates revisits with eyewitnesses like LAPD officer Stephany Powell and Thomas protégé Armstrong Williams— attested to the persistence of the color line in American society, despite the increasing diversity of the black community.
TOUCH THE SKY
The final hour brings the story up to the present day. As the 21st Century dawned, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina came as a wake-up call, revealing that the black poor were still grappling with issues that the civil rights movement set out to resolve decades earlier. After this sobering revelation, Senator Barack Obama’s announcement that he would run for President sparked a wave of hope that the country might at last be ready for real change. Voters of all races carried Obama to victory in 2008, setting off excited speculation that America had finally become a “post-racial” nation — even if nobody was quite sure what that meant. Former Attorney General Eric Holder gives Gates an inside view on the challenges of the Obama Presidency.
As incidents of lethal police brutality continued to occur, a new movement began taking shape, with young activists like DeRay Mckesson and Alicia Garza and high-profile entertainers and artists like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar rallying around a starkly simple new slogan: Black Lives Matter. The series ends where it began: on the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, with Gates raising questions about the past and future of black America: Why does racial equality still elude us? What would it take to realize the goals of the civil rights movement? And what lies ahead in the years to come? Just one thing is certain: with the determination and strength wrought by years of struggle, African Americans will find a way forward.
The Civil Rights History Project - An oral history collection from activists of the Civil Rights Movement