ARLINGTON, VA (January 16, 2014) – In commemoration of Black History Month and as part of its year-round commitment to provide diverse programming and resources for all Americans, PBS today announced new shows and online content celebrating the African American experience past, present and future.
From an American Masters profile of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, to an Independent Lens documentary about the secret spy agency created to maintain segregation in Mississippi, Black History Month on PBS will provide programs that educate, inform, and inspire viewers to learn more about the rich culture of our nation.
“Our Black History Month lineup delves deep into the stories of notable people and historical topics in a way that’s uniquely PBS,” says Donald Thoms, Vice President, Programming and Talent Management.
“We feature the work of diverse and independent producers, which remains a staple of our content offerings year round, and I think our viewers will enjoy and even find a little inspiration from our content this year.”
AMERICAN MASTERS: Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth
Friday, February 7 at 9 p.m.
Most famous for her seminal novel The Color Purple, writer and activist Alice Walker celebrates her 70th birthday. Born February 9, 1944, into a family of sharecroppers in rural Georgia, her life unfolded during the violent racism and seismic social changes of mid-20th century America. The formative influences on her consciousness were her mother, poverty, and participation in the civil rights movement, and they became the inherent themes in her writing. The first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Walker continues to shine a light on global human rights issues. In this 90-minute special, her dramatic life is told with poetry and lyricism, and includes interviews with Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Howard Zinn, Gloria Steinem, Sapphire, and Walker herself.
AMERICAN MASTERS: Cab Calloway: Sketches
Sunday, February 9 at 4 p.m.
“Hi de hi de hi de ho,” the popular refrain from “Minnie the Moocher” was Cab Calloway’s signature song and Harlem’s famous Cotton Club was his home stage. A singer, dancer, and band leader, Calloway (1907–1994) led one of the most popular African American big bands during the Harlem Renaissance and jazz and swing eras of the 1930s–40s. A consummate musician, he charmed audiences across the world with boundless energy, bravado, and elegant showmanship. His back glide dance step is the precursor to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and his scatting lyrics find their legacy in today’s hip-hop and rap. An ambassador for his race, Calloway was the first black musician to tour the segregationist South, as early as 1932. At the top of his game in the jazz and swing eras of the ’30s and ’40s, he toured as Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess, forever putting his personal stamp on “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” His career flagged until he was rediscovered in the 1980s in The Blues Brothers and even on Sesame Street, becoming a new cult hero of sorts.
The Black Kungfu Experience
Sunday, February 9 at 5 p.m.
The Black Kungfu Experience introduces kungfu’s African-American pioneers, men who challenged convention and overturned preconceived notions while mastering the ancient art. The four martial artists profiled include Ron Van Clief, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran who starred in more than 40 kungfu films and earned the nickname “Black Dragon” from Bruce Lee. Their compelling stories illustrate how kungfu began as, and remains, a unique crucible of the black experience. In particular, kungfu’s themes of the underdog triumphing against the odds resonated in black communities across the United States.
Sunday, February 16 at 4 p.m.
Colored Frames reflects on the last 50 years in African-American art by exploring the influences, inspirations, and experiences of black artists. The film beings at the height of the civil rights era and leads up to the present, providing a truthful, unflinching look at often-ignored artists and their progeny. Impressionistic video collages showcase the wide variety, both thematically and stylistically, of contemporary pieces by black artists working in such genres as illustration, abstraction, and surrealism. The documentary also chronicles the black artist’s struggle for visibility and acceptance in mainstream art society as well as their experiences challenging assumptions about what constitutes “blackness,” even within their own community.
A Conversation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Sunday, February 2 at 4 p.m.
This program provides an inside look into the life and career of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. A native of West Virginia, Gates returned to his birth state to share his story with CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. Recorded in front of a live audience at The Culture Center in the capital city of Charleston, A Conversation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. provides an insightful look into the life of this history “change agent.” This lively hour-long interview program was produced by The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive.
Faith in the Hood
Sunday, February 23 at 11 p.m.
Faith in the Hood is a compelling portrait of the inner city seen through the prism of the spiritual life of its people. Southeast is the poorest neighborhood in Washington, D.C. with only one sit-down restaurant. But it has hundreds of churches and ministries. The film profiles five of them: a street ministry for former convicts and drug addicts, a socially activist storefront church, a powerful Afro-centric church, an evangelical camp for young people, and an Islamic elementary school. With insightful commentary from leading experts on African American faith, the film demonstrates the richness of inner city religion and its centrality as a defining aspect of black life.
INDEPENDENT LENS: Daisy Bates – First Lady of Little Rock
Sunday, February 9 at 11:30 p.m.
As a black woman who was a feminist before the term was invented, Daisy Bates refused to accept her assigned place in society. This program tells the story of her life and public support of nine black students who registered to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which culminated in a constitutional crisis—pitting a president against a governor and a community against itself. Unconventional, revolutionary, and egotistical, Bates reaped the rewards of instant fame, but paid dearly for it.
INDEPENDENT LENS: Spies of Mississippi
Monday, February 10 at 10 p.m.
Spies of Mississippi tells the story of a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation during the 1950s and ’60s. Granted broad powers, the commission investigated citizens and organizations in attempts to derail the civil rights movement.
Instruments of Change
Thursday, February 27 at 10 p.m.
In Miami, Florida in 1951, musician and teacher Ruth Greenfield founded the Fine Arts Conservatory, one of the first racially integrated art schools in the South. The Conservatory was a place where those of any color could come together, be taught by first rate teachers, and be instilled with a sense of dignity and confidence. The school changed the lives of many, such as Fredrick Morley, who went on to become the principal of a highly acclaimed elementary school, and others who started their own conservatories or theater companies, or become lifelong advocates for the arts. As the Conservatory wound down in the late 70s, it overlapped another Greenfield project known as the Lunchtime Lively Arts Series. Initiated in 1972 to help revitalize a downtown in decline, it was hosted by Miami Dade College and brought a variety of free entertainment every Wednesday at noon to various downtown venues. The series, which spanned almost twenty years, reignited interest in the arts and was the spark that led to Miami’s urban renewal that is still taking place today. Instruments of Change shows the power the performing arts in bringing a community together. It features intimate interviews, emotional footage, and photographs along with archival and current day performances from those who participated.
Thursday, February 13 at 10 p.m.
Witness the compelling and dramatic story of the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech. This watershed event in the civil rights movement helped change the face of America. The March reveals the dramatic story behind the event through the remembrances of key players such as Jack O’Dell, Clarence B. Jones, Julian Bond, and Andrew Young. Supporters and other testimonials of the March include Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Roger Mudd, Peter Yarrow, and Oprah Winfrey, in addition to historians, journalists, authors and ordinary citizens who joined some 250,000 Americans who thronged to the capital on that momentous day to peacefully demand an end to two centuries of discrimination and injustice. Other notable figures featured in the film include Clayborn Carson, Edith Lee Payne, Joyce Ladner and Rachell Horowitz. Denzel Washington narrates.
POV: American Promise
Monday, February 3 at 10 p.m.
This film spans 13 years as Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson, middle-class African-American parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., turn their cameras on their son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, who make their way through one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. Chronicling the boys’ divergent paths from kindergarten through high school graduation at Manhattan’s Dalton School, this documentary presents complicated truths about America’s struggle to come of age on issues of race, class, and opportunity.
Thursday, February 20 at 10 p.m.
In the mid-1800s just outside of Marlin, Texas, a slave plantation named Tomlinson Hill was founded by James K. Tomlinson. The establishment would have long lasting effects on the rural community. Tomlinson Hill documents how the legacy of slavery in east and central Texas has created a region still divided despite the civil rights changes of the last 60 years. Reporter Chris Tomlinson, a descendant of slave owner James K. Tomlinson, confronts the shame and guilt he feels from his ancestry and digs into the real legacy of the area. He comes across Loreane Tomlinson, a descendant of slaves on Tomlinson Hill, who has returned to her hometown with a vision of civic improvement. Says Tomlinson, “After meeting Loreane, I knew I wanted the film to tell the story of my family history as well as her family history. Together, it’s the story of America, as far as I’m concerned.” The documentary is a fascinating look at people trying to move on while others resist change. Can Marlin survive and transform not only the racial separation that exists, but the deep-rooted socio-economic divide as well?
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