Nashville Public Television will host a free virtual screening event featuring clips from Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s new The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song documentary on Monday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. During the event, a distinguished panel will explore the stories and social history of Nashville’s Black faith communities from the early 1800s through the 1960s. This virtual community screening is a free event, however registration is required at wnpt.org/events.
The panelists are the Rev. Judy Cummings, D.Min., public justice theologian and retired pastor of the historic New Covenant Christian Church; Dennis Dickerson, Ph.D., professor of African American religious history, Vanderbilt University; Steven Lewis, Ph.D., curator, National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM); and Carroll Van West, Ph.D., Tennessee State Historian and director of the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU. LaTonya Turner, producer of NPT’s Facing North: Jefferson Street, Nashville, will moderate the discussion about Nashville’s African American religious history, music and culture.
The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song reveals the broad history and culture of the Black church and explores the African American faith communities on the front lines of hope and change. The two-part documentary premieres on NPT Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 16 and 17, at 8 p.m. and will be available for streaming at video.wnpt.org.
Part One: Host Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the roots of African American religion, beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the extraordinary ways enslaved Africans preserved and adapted their faith practices under the brutal realities of human bondage. As an awakening of Protestant Christianity spread in the 18th century, Black Americans embraced a vision of a liberating God and Black churches that would become bedrock institutions in the long struggle to dismantle slavery, culminating in the Civil War. With Emancipation and Reconstruction, independent Black churches flourished and helped the formerly enslaved navigate a perilous freedom by fulfilling the social, educational, financial, cultural and political needs of African Americans.
Dr. Gates speaks with noted scholars, public figures and religious leaders about faith and the struggle for rights in the midst of growing racial violence that would continue well into the 20th century. Key figures include founder Richard Allen and preacher Jarena Lee of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; abolitionist Frederick Douglass; influential religious figure Henry McNeal Turner; and pioneers Virginia Broughton and Nannie Helen Burroughs of the National Baptist Convention.
Part Two: The series continues with the Black church expanding its reach to address social inequality and minister to those in need, from the exodus out of the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration to the heroic phase of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s. After the violent loss of leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., many Black churches found themselves at a crossroads — struggling to remain relevant in an era of increasing secularization while reckoning with urgent social and cultural issues within their congregations and broader communities.
The concluding episode brings the story of the Black Church up to the present — a time of renewed struggle for racial justice in America. Host Henry Louis Gates Jr. interviews prominent figures across African American society, including celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Hudson, and John Legend; Bishops Michael Curry, Yvette Flunder and Vashti Murphy McKenzie; Rev. William Barber, and more.
Explore more Black History Month programming options for viewing on-air and online at https://www.wnpt.org/black-history-month/.