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TCA press tour: Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes new look at black history

August 07, 2013|By Greg Braxton
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr., executive producer of "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates Jr., " addresses reporters during the PBS Summer 2013 TCA press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel
Henry Louis Gates Jr., executive producer of "The African Americans:… (Chris Pizzello / Invision…)

Historian and Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. can still remember how moved and inspired he was as a high school senior watching a documentary about black American history narrated by Bill Cosby. The film was a key in launching his elite career as an educator and filmmaker.

But Gates, who is also the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, said the comprehensive story of African Americans dating from before the arrival of slaves to the present day has rarely been told, particularly in schools.

He hopes to remedy the shortfall with "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross," a six-part series premiering Oct. 22 on PBS. Gates wrote and hosts the series, which he says will trace the evolution of African Americans through five centuries and leading to the election of Barack Obama as president.

"This is a story about agency and self-determination," Gates said as he presnted the series during the PBS portion of the TCA press tour, which concluded Wednesday. "We wanted to create a history for a new genertion that has never watched 'Roots' or has never seen 'Eyes On The Prize.' "

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Gates said the story is not only about African Americans, "but of America."

The first part of the series, "The Black Atlantic," begins before the first documented "20-and-odd" slaves arrived at Jamestown, Va. "The first African American to arrive on these shores was a conquistador."

The project is a continuation of Gates' string of films for PBS, which have employed genealogy and genetic science to provide an understanding of African American history. His previoius work for the network includes "African American Lives," "Black in Latin America" and "Looking for Lincoln."

In addition to visiting historical sites around the country, Gates will interview eyewitnesses to events, including school integration pioneers Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Ruby Bridges, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and several others.

"All these people are heroes," Gates said.


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