NPT is observing Black History Month with new programs celebrating the lives and accomplishments of African Americans. This year’s offerings include a new profile of Maya Angelou; a Smokey Robinson special, a new Henry Louis Gates Jr. series; and The Talk, an insightful documentary about conversations parents of color feel they must have with their children.
Here are highlights from our February offerings:
AfropPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange airs Wednesdays, Feb. 2 – March 2, at 11 p.m.
Actress Nicole Beharie is the host of Season 9, which includes An American Ascent (Feb. 2), about the first African-American team to tackle Denali, North America’s highest peak. Black Out (Feb. 23) follows Guinean children as they seek lighted areas in which to study for exams.
Independent Lens airs Mondays, Feb. 6 and 13, at 9 p.m.
Based on Dick Lehr’s book by the same name, Birth of a Movement (Feb. 6) traces Hollywood’s legacy of misrepresentation and negative racial stereotypes from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation to the present. Danny Glover narrates this documentary which includes interviews with historians, writers, and filmmakers including Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, Jelani Cobb, Vincent Brown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America (Feb. 13) shares the surprising story of a musician’s unusual hobby of befriending KKK members in an effort to change their minds about race. Davis – who has backed Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other legendary performers – also collects robes and hoods of people who end up leaving the Klan after meeting him. This film by Matt and Noah Ornstein was awarded NPT’s Human Spirit Award at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival.
Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Music on Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.
A rhythm and blues icon whose career spans more than 50 years, Robinson has created hit songs that have become a mainstay in American pop music. As a producer and record executive, Robinson helped lead a musical revolution called the Motown sound. This evening hosted by Samuel L. Jackson celebrates Robinson’s receipt of the 2016 Gershwin Prize in December with performances by Gallant, JoJo, Ledisi, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Walsh, BeBe Winans and Robinson himself. Motown founder Berry Gordy also makes a special appearance.
John Lewis: Get in the Way on Friday, Feb. 10, at 9:30 p.m.
In town to receive the 2016 Nashville Public Library Literary Award last fall, Rep. John Lewis was astounded when Mayor Megan Barry presented him with oversized images of his mugshots taken during Nashville protests in the 1960s. Lewis – a bestselling author, Medal of Freedom Recipient and civil rights icon – is the subject of an hour-long documentary that includes never-before-seen interviews shot over 20 years. Other key interviewees include civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy and Bernard Lafayette, as well as Lewis’ congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver and Amory Houghton.
Soul City on Reel South airs Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 11 p.m.
A 1970s utopian community founded in North Carolina is the subject of this program, one of this season’s offerings on Reel South. The series is produced by the Southern Documentary Fund and is hosted by Darius Rucker.
The Talk: Race in America airs Monday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.
Using six personal stories – including that of Samaria Rice, whose 12-year-old son, Tamir, was killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio – to explain the discussion black and Latino families have with their children about how to interact with law enforcement personnel. In addition to the perspectives of ordinary people in California, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee, The Talk shares the experiences of police officers as well as Kenya Barris, creator/executive producer of Peabody Award-winning ABC series “black-ish”; musician/activist Nas (Illmatic, Life Is Good, Untitled); actor/director and activist Rosie Perez (Do the Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump, Fearless, Pineapple Express); director/screenwriter/producer John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Baby Boy, Poetic Justice, Hustle and Flow); and New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise airs on American Masters on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.
Singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer Maya Angelou inspired generations with her lyrical and provocative writing. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. The first feature documentary about her life, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise includes never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and Angelou’s own words to tell her story. The film also features exclusive interviews with Bill Clinton; Oprah Winfrey; Common; Alfre Woodard; Cicely Tyson; Quincy Jones; Hillary Clinton; Louis Gossett; Jr.; John Singleton; Diahann Carroll; Valerie Simpson; Random House editor Bob Loomis; and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.
Viewers can share stories of inspirational women in their own lives via text, images or videos on the American Masters website or via Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #InspiringWomanPBS as part of a year-long online campaign.
Africa’s Great Civilization airs Monday, Feb. 27 and Wednesday and Thursday, March 1 and 2, at 8 p.m.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s latest documentary highlights the history of Africa before the colonial era. In this beautifully filmed six-hour miniseries, Prof. Gates travels the length and breadth of the continent from the city of Great Zimbabwe to the pyramids of the Kingdom of Kushner in Sudan, from the spectacular rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia to the continent’s oldest university in Fez, and from the Blombos Caves in South Africa to Ancient Mali. He covers 2,000 years before the European “scramble” to claim Africa’s natural resources.
Other programs returning to our lineup this February are a slate of American Masters profiles of musicians airing Thursdays at 8 p.m., including B.B. King (Feb. 9) and Jimi Hendrix (Feb. 16); as well as documentaries about groundbreaking African-American women airing Mondays at 11 p.m., Black Ballerina (Feb. 20) and Black Women in Medicine ( Feb. 27).
In addition, NPT’s own history documentaries, Looking Over Jordan: African Americans and the War and First Black Statesmen: Tennessee’s Self-Made Men, will be broadcast on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Black History Month programming on NPT is made possible through the financial support of