Public Media Celebrates the Contributions of African Americans to Our History and Culture this February
Feb. 2, 2021
From documentary series to radio specials, podcast episodes to film premieres, this February boasts public media programming designed to inspire and represent the breadth of the Black experience and the contributions of African Americans to our nation’s history and culture.
The month’s centerpiece is “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” a new documentary from executive producer, host and writer Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., premiering on PBS on Tuesday, February 16, and Wednesday, February 17, with CPB support (check local listings). The intimate two-part, four-hour series features interviews with Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and Bishop Michael Curry, and examines the role of the Church as the site of African American organizing, resilience, autonomy, freedom and solidarity. The film deftly uses song to highlight the beliefs and actions that drew African Americans from the violent margins of society to the front lines of change. In addition to the national broadcast, public television and radio stations are also hosting local events and creating content exploring the local history and role of the Black church in their communities.
An enriching lineup of premieres and encores will air throughout the month on PBS. You can preview many of these upcoming specials and watch full-length films on their Black History Month feature page:
- “The Jazz Ambassadors,” 9 pm, February 2. The Cold War and civil rights collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy and race. While traveling the world as cultural ambassadors, America's jazz greats faced a dilemma: representing a country that still practiced Jim Crow segregation.
- “Goin’ Back to T-Town,” 9 pm, February 8, American Experience. This documentary revisits Greenwood, a Black community in Tulsa torn apart in 1921 by a racially motivated massacre. The neighborhood rose again but could not survive integration and urban renewal. The special is a bittersweet portrait of small-town life told by those who lived it.
- “Voice of Freedom,” 9 pm, February 15, American Experience. The fascinating life of celebrated singer Marian Anderson is explored. In 1939, after being barred from performing at Constitution Hall because she was Black, she triumphed at the Lincoln Memorial in what became a landmark moment in American history.
- Finding Your Roots: “Write My Name in the Book of Life,” 8 pm, February 16. Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. helps musician Pharrell Williams and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons uncover extraordinarily rare first-person accounts of their enslaved ancestors.
- “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America,” 9 pm, February 19. This special presentation explores how the advent of the automobile brought new freedoms and new perils for African Americans on the road in this deep look into the dynamics of race, space and mobility in America over time.
- “Mr. SOUL!,” 10 pm, February 22, Independent Lens, PBS. Celebrate SOUL!, the public television variety show that shared Black culture with the nation. Ellis Haizlip developed “SOUL!” in 1968 as one of the first platforms to promote the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. Its impact continues to this day.
PBS is also spotlighting a history maker per day with their “28 Black History Makers in 28 Days” online feature, and offers a collection of videos that delve into race in the United States, to educate audiences on its historical context.
WORLD Channel, a public media multicast channel featuring news and documentaries, is presenting more than 55 programs honoring Black History Month. Check local listings for details on specials from America ReFramed, Local, USA, Stories from the Stage, AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, Independent Lens, Reel South and more on worldchannel.org and the PBS app.
The PBS Digital Studios series “Say It Loud” returns for a second season this February. Host Evelyn Ngugi explores the complexity of the Black experience and finds joy in the many ways Black Americans have influenced American life. The show gives viewers a comedic take on everything from identity and pop culture to Black pride movements and Black Twitter. New episodes from the PBS Digital Studios music education series "Sound Field" delve into the life of Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Kuti, PBS Digital Studios also has a Black History themed playlist featuring wide-ranging topics from some of its most popular series.
- NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert series will feature 13 Tiny Desk Concerts from home by Black artists across genres and generations. The weekly lineup includes both emerging and established jazz, R&B and hip-hop artists who will be performing a Tiny Desk concert for the first time. Concerts premiere February 2 with Wynton Marsalis.
- Alt.Latino's annual observance of Black History month features music from the Afro Latino experience. Tune in on February 26 for interviews about how the African diaspora’s influence continues to be present in music.
- WXPN’s KANAVAL series “Haitian Rhythms and the Music of New Orleans” explores and investigates the historical and present day ties between the nation of Haiti and the city of New Orleans with a focus on the music that bonds together the places and people. This limited-run series, available starting February 1, includes a two-hour audio documentary special and one hour of needle drop music. Full details on the series can be found here.
- NPR Live Sessions will showcase videos on the Black experience in America curated by VuHaus Program Director Mark Abuzzahab. Highlighted videos include “Ten Million Slaves” by Otis Taylor from The Colorado Sound in Ft. Collins. In addition to the playing the song in a cemetery that includes Black pioneers, he speaks about the origins of racism and slavery after the performance.
- Throughline is hosting a trivia night and presents three episodes dedicated to Black visionaries who imagined new worlds for the Black diaspora: Marcus Garvey (February 11), Octavia Butler (February 18) and Bayard Rustin (February 25).
- On It’s Been A Minute, host Sam Sanders talks with actress Angela Bassett (February 2); and comedians Desus Nice and The Kid Mero (February 9).
- On February 19, Louder Than A Riot hosts Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael will lead a virtual roundtable discussion on NPR Music’s YouTube channel joined by tastemakers, activists and entertainers.
- NPR has a playlist of favorite podcast episodes talking about Black pop culture icons, wealth, advertising, fashion, and more, across 12 different shows from NPR.
- “Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was” tells the story of radio’s role in the 20th century transformation of the African American community. The Peabody-winning specials, which first aired in 1996, have been reformatted into six hours for 2021. They are presented by PRX and the Smithsonian and feature the original host Lou Rawls, with new narration from original producer Jacquie Gales Webb. Sonja Williams is also a producer. Presented by PRX and the Smithsonian.
- PRX’s TRAX, the CPB-funded podcast network for tweens will present a two-part series from the Ohh You’re in Trouble podcast titled “Carlotta and the Little Rock Nine," about the group of African American teenagers who challenged the status quo and made history in the process.
Check your local public television and radio station listings for additional programming, including encore presentations on PBS member stations such as “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise,” “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,” and “John Lewis – Get in the Way.” Programs are also available online, on the PBS App, and via PBS Passport. Visit NPR.org and prx.org/shows to listen to radio specials online.
Photo: Ellis Haizlip with the J.C. White Singers on the set of SOUL! Courtesy of Alex Harsley.