Series to explore African-American experience

To say that African-Americans have had a long, complicated, often tragic existence in this country would be the ultimate of understatements.

It’s been, to say the very least, a difficult journey.

A new PBS series, to begin airing Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Panhandle PBS, examines the African-American experience.

The series is titled “African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” The first segment is called “The Black Atlantic (1500-1800).” It looks at the arrival of the earliest immigrants from Africa, both slave and free, to this new land called America. Here’s how PanhandlePBS previews the series:

“Henry Louis Gates Jr. chronicles the history of African-Americans, beginning with the years 1500 to 1800. Included: the first documented introduction of slaves to North America, which occurred in 1619 at Jamestown, Va.; and the expansion of slavery during the 18th century, which is told via the story of a 10-year-old girl named Priscilla who was brought to South Carolina from Sierra Leone. Also: what the American, French and Haitian revolutions meant for African-Americans and slavery in America.”

This is a tough story to tell. It tells of slave ships carrying human beings sold into bondage by Africans who were consumed by greed. They were enslaved and kept aboard these ships as they traveled for weeks across treacherous ocean water.

They got here and became the property of slave owners.

Is this something of which Americans should be proud? Absolutely not. It is, though, a segment of our history that needs telling.

The next segment, “The Age of Slavery: 1800-1860,” airs Oct. 29 and it takes viewers through the first half of the 19th century and to the days leading up to the Civil War. The debate has raged in this country ever since the Civil War about whether that conflict was about slavery. Some say it was all about slavery; others contend it was about protecting states’ ability to govern themselves.

I believe the rationale put forth by those who supported the Confederacy make the point — almost by accident — that the war, indeed, was about slavery.

The African-American experience is a fascinating, and too often tragic, tale of untold hardship that leads to ultimate triumph. The struggle isn’t yet over in many Americans’ eyes.

“The Black Atlantic” begins to tell a gripping story, beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday on PanhandlePBS.


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