Neal Shapiro,CEO and president of PBS station Thirteen/WNET and  Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Neal Shapiro,CEO and president of PBS station Thirteen/WNET and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

*Quintessential scholar and academician Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. has given birth to a new series of life-changing lessons entitled The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross that will air for six consecutive Tuesdays, October 22-November 26, 2013 at 8 p.m. (except Nov. 19 at 9 p.m.) on the Public Broadcasting System (WNET-13-TV) in an effort to contribute to the education of the African American history.

This new series which premiered on PBS on Tuesday, October 22, is “Skip” Gates latest contribution of what has proven to be a long and distinguished public television career.  The series is equivalent to being in a classroom helmed by Professor Gates consisting of a six-part history lesson that spans the search for the Fountain of Youth by a free Black man in 1513 to the second inaugural of President Barack Obama.

The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross chronicles the full sweep of African-American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent through more than four centuries of remarkable historic events up to the present.  Presented and written by the Harvard scholar, the series draws on some of America’s top historians and heretofore untapped primary sources, guiding viewers on an engaging journey across two continents to shed new light on the experience of being African American.

On Wednesday evening, October 16, 2013, Dr. Georgette Bennett & Dr. Leonard Polonsky, Arianna Huffington, Glenn & Debbie Hutchins, Wynton Marsalis, Howard & Abby Milstein, Jessye Norman and Harvey Weinstein hosted a premiere New York City screening of the original series at The Paris Theatre on East 58th Street followed by a fabulous after party at the trendy TAO on East 59th Street.

Celebrated attendees noshed on free popcorn while sipping bottles of designer’s water as they were treated to a sneak peak from Episode One: The Black Atlantic (1500 – 1800) commencing in the Atlantic ocean with the story of Juan Garrido one of the first Africans to set foot on America who had embarked in a Spanish expedition and later pursued his search for gold in California; Episode Four: Making a Way out of No Way (1897 – 1940) which narrates among other things the Jim Crow era; and Episode Six: A More Perfect Union (1968 – 2013) from the civil rights movement to the historic election of President Barack Obama.

What’s so remarkable about this transformative series is that it’s designed for use in junior and high school classrooms as these lesson plans and curricular material adhere to national learning standards containing video segments from The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates Jr. , comprehensive instructions for classroom implementation, printable student handouts, links to online resources, and suggestions for extension activities to enhance students’ reading, viewing, and appreciation of African American history.

As director of Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, “Skip” Gates received a lengthy ovation before the start and end of the invitational only screening attended by family, friends, colleagues, supporters and admirers, as well as producers and some of the participants in the new series. .

From The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates Jr. viewers can look forward to:

Episode One: “The Black Atlantic (1500-1800)” aired Tuesday, October 22 at 8 p.m. – “The Black Atlantic” explores the global experiences that created the African-American people. Beginning a century before the first documented “20-and-odd” slaves who arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, the episode portrays the earliest Africans, slave and free, who arrived on these shores.

The transatlantic slave trade soon became a vast empire connecting three continents. Through stories of individuals caught in its web, the episode traces the emergence of plantation slavery in the American South and examines what the late 18th-century era of revolutions — American, French and Haitian — would mean for African Americans and slavery in America.

Episode Two: “The Age of Slavery (1800-1860)” airs Tuesday, October 29 at 8 p.m. – “The Age of Slavery” illustrates how black lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the American Revolution. For free Black people, these years were a time of opportunity, but for most African Americans, the era represented a new nadir. King Cotton fueled the rapid expansion of slavery into new territories and the forcible relocation of African Americans to the Deep South. Yet as slavery intensified, so did resistance. From individual acts to mass rebellions, African Americans demonstrated their determination to undermine and ultimately eradicate slavery.

Episode Three: “Into the Fire (1861-1896)” airs Tuesday, November 5 at 8 p.m. – “Into the Fire” examines the most tumultuous and consequential period in African-American history: the Civil War and the end of slavery, and Reconstruction’s thrilling but brief “moment in the sun.” From the beginning, African Americans were agents of their liberation — by fleeing the plantations and taking up arms to serve in the United States Colored Troops. After Emancipation, African Americans sought to realize the promise of freedom — rebuilding families shattered by slavery; demanding economic, political and civil rights; even winning elected office — but a few years later, an intransigent South mounted a swift and vicious campaign of terror to restore white supremacy and roll back African-American rights. Yet the achievements of Reconstruction remained in the collective memory of the African-American community.

Episode Four: “Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940)” airs Tuesday, November 12 at 8 p.m. – “Making a Way Out of No Way” portrays the Jim Crow era, when African Americans struggled to build their own worlds within the harsh, narrow confines of segregation. At the turn of the 20th century, a steady stream of African Americans left the South, fleeing the threat of racial violence and searching for opportunities in the North and West. Leaders like Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey organized, offering different strategies to further Black empowerment and equality. The ascendance of black arts and culture showed that a community with a strong identity and sense of pride was taking hold in spite of Jim Crow. “The Harlem Renaissance” redefined how America saw African Americans — and how African Americans saw themselves.

Episode Five: “Rise! (1940-1968)” airs Tuesday, November 19 at 9 p.m. (One hour later due to special election coverage) – “Rise!” examines the long road to civil rights, when the deep contradictions in American society finally became unsustainable. African Americans who fought fascism in World War II came home to face the same old racial violence. But mass media — from print to radio and TV — broadcast that injustice, planting seeds of resistance. The success of black entrepreneurs and entertainers fueled African-American hopes and dreams. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, heralding the dawn of a movement of resistance, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its public face. Before long, masses of African Americans practiced this nonviolent approach to integrate public schools, lunch counters and more. Nonviolence, however, was often met with violence. In 1968, Dr. King was assassinated, unleashing a new call for “Black Power” across the country.

Episode Six: “A More Perfect Union (1968-2013)” airs Tuesday, November 26 at 8 p.m. – After 1968, African Americans set out to build a bright future on the foundation of the civil rights movement’s victories, but a growing class disparity threatened to split the Black community. As African Americans won political office across the country and the Black middle class made progress, larger economic and political forces isolated the Black urban poor.

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many hoped that America had finally transcended racism. By the time of his second victory, however, it was clear that many issues, including true racial equality, remain to be resolved. How will African Americans help redefine the United States in the years to come?

Major corporate support for The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is provided by Bank of America.  Additional corporate funding is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and McDonald’s. Leadership support is generously provided by the Abby and Howard Milstein Foundation, in partnership with HooverMilstein and Emigrant Bank. Major funding is also provided by the Ford Foundation, Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky in Memory of Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, Richard Gilder, the Hutchins Family Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Support is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.

abby & howard millstein & henry louis gates jr

Abby & Howard Millstein and Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates Jr.


After the screening guests headed over to the trendy TAO for the after party that was attended by Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation, Neal B. Shapiro, president, PBS station WNET 13, Jodi Applegate, Georgette Bennett, Harry Carson, Ron Claiborne, Joanna Coles, Ruby Dee, Delaina Dixon, Tony Guida, Dan Hedaya, Glenn & Deborah Hutchins, Nikki M James, Beverly Johnson & Brian Macmillan, Harry Jones, Howard & Abby Milstein, Lawrence O’Donnell, Irina Pantaeva, Gloria Reuben, Nina Rosenblum, Neal Shapiro, Terrence Stevens, Eric West, Celia Weston, and Candice Williams.  The blissful evening was coordinated by the renowned Peggy Siegal Company.

New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets.  Contact her via: [email protected]

audrey bernard

Audrey J. Bernard