To honor Black History Month, and as part of its commitment to celebrate the diversity of America year-round, PBS kicks off the new year with documentaries and specials that highlight the African-American experience through content on-air on PBS member stations and online through the PBS Black Culture Connection. Locally, in Nashville, NPT and NPT2 offer this programming free of charge on digital channels 8.1 and 8.2, respectively. NPT also has its own original programming in addition to the national PBS offerings.
“PBS always strives to produce content that will enhance our audience’s knowledge of history and culture,” said Perry Simon, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming. “We are pleased to highlight the African American stories and contributions on and behind the screen in our lineup this February and beyond, and trust that the viewers will find these programs engaging and inspiring.”
The offerings include programs that reflect on the contributions of national icons like Howard Thurman, Sammy Davis, Jr., B.B. King, Fats Domino, and Charlie Pride, as well as local notable radio figure Don Whitehead, and Tennesseans in politics and the media, showcased in independent documentaries about the valiant efforts of those pushing for change through thoughtful dialogue.
Here is a listing of the programs you can see free on NPT this month (times given are NPT and NPT2 premieres; many shows repeat on NPT and/or NPT2; check local listings on wnpt.org):
FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., SEASON 5 (Tuesdays, through February 26; April 2 and 9, 7:00-8:00 p.m.) Join Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to uncover the surprisingly ancestral stories of 25 cultural trailblazers with fascinating and unexpected personal histories. Personalities featured this season include Michael Strahan, S. Epatha Merkerson, Kehinde Wiley, Michael K. Williams, Joe Madison and many more highlighted in the 10 new episodes.
INDEPENDENT LENS – “Black Memorabilia” (Monday, Feb. 4, 9 p.m. & Sunday, Feb. 10, 11 p.m.) From the South to Brooklyn to China, meet the people who reproduce, consume and reclaim black memorabilia, racially-charged objects often wrapped in the protective embrace of antiquity and historical preservation; directed by Chico Colvard.
REDEEMING UNCLE TOM: THE JOSIAH HENSON STORY (Monday, Feb. 4, 11 p.m.) The real-life inspiration for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic 1852 novel, Josiah Henson was born into slavery near Port Tobacco, Maryland around 1789. He became a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church and eventually escaped with his family to settle in Canada.
AUSTIN CITY LIMITS “Buddy Guy/August Greene” (Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, 11 p.m.) Blues legend Buddy Guy plays hits and songs from his latest album, The Blues is Alive and Well. Hip-hop supergroup August Greene performs songs from its self-titled debut.
LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER “Pipeline” (Friday, Feb. 8, 8 p.m.) Meet Nya, an inner-city teacher desperate to save her son, in Dominique Morisseau’s riveting and critically acclaimed new play. When Nya’s son gets in trouble at school, she must confront his rage and her choices, and try to reach him before he gets pulled away forever; co-produced by BroadwayHD.
THE DON WHITEHEAD STORY (Saturday, Feb. 9, 5 p.m.; and once again on Sunday, Feb. 10, 1 p.m., both on NPT2) Don Whitehead never planned to work in radio, he wanted to work in theater in New York, yet in 1968, he became the first African-American hired to be on air at Nashville’s WLAC, a CBS affiliate radio station. Note: This film is by Brian Day, an assistant professor at TSU. More info: http://tnstatenewsroom.com/archives/20048
INDEPENDENT LENS “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” (Monday, Feb. 11, 9 p.m. & Sunday, Feb. 17, 11 p.m.) Visit the world of Hale County, Alabama. Composed of intimate and unencumbered moments in the lives of people in the community, the film offers a richly detailed glimpse at life in America’s Black Belt. Directed by RaMell Ross.
AMERICAN MASTERS “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” (Tuesday, Feb. 19, 8 p.m.) Explore the entertainer’s vast talent and journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America. Features new interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, and clips from Davis’ TV, film and concert performances. Directed by Sam Pollard.
AMERICAN MASTERS “Charley Pride: I’m Just Me” (Friday, Feb. 22, 8 p.m. & Thursday, Feb. 28, 9 p.m.) Explore the complicated history of the American South and its music through the life of country star Charley Pride. Raised in segregated Mississippi, his journey shows the ways that artistic expression can triumph over prejudice and injustice. Directed by Barbara J. Hall (a Nashville-based filmmaker).
SOLDIER & CITIZEN (Thursday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m.) Military service has historically been seen as a pathway to new rights and legitimacy for minority groups, offering battlefield sacrifice as evidence of worthiness. Through riveting stories of Tennessee’s military history, Soldier & Citizen explores how the “blood debt” has been leveraged to further the cause for full citizenship. The hour-long documentary is the latest installment of “The Citizenship Project,” a Nashville Public Television original series.
BACKS AGAINST THE WALL: THE HOWARD THURMAN STORY (Thursday, Feb. 28, 11:02 p.m.) Born the grandson of slaves in segregated Daytona, Fla., Thurman went on to become one of the great spiritual and religious pioneers of the 20th century, whose words and influence continue to echo today. His landmark book, Jesus and the Disinherited, was the first to state that Jesus Christ — who was born in poverty as part of a powerless minority — lived a life that spoke directly to black Americans.
Encore Programs (previously aired, but repeated during Black History Month):
FIRST BLACK STATESMEN: TENNESSEE’S SELF-MADE MEN (Friday, Feb. 1, 11:30 p.m.) NPT’s original production, First Black Statesmen, tells the story of 14 men who defied the odds to become state legislators in the era immediately following the Civil War. Eleven of the men had been born slaves and all faced the rampant racial animosity endured by freedmen after the war.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW “Celebrating Black Americana” (Monday, Feb. 4, 8 p.m.) Highlights include an 1821 U.S. citizenship certificate for George Barker, a free man of color; an African American beauty book written by Madam C.J. Walker, the first American female millionaire; and a trip with host Mark L. Walberg and appraiser Leila Dunbar to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
INDEPENDENT LENS “Birth of a Movement” (Tuesday, Feb. 5, 11 p.m.) In 1915, African American newspaper editor and activist William M. Trotter waged a battle against D.W. Griffith’s notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly blockbuster The Birth of a Nation, which unleashed a fight still raging today about race relations and representation, and the power and influence of Hollywood. The Birth of a Movement features Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
BREAKING BIG “Lee Daniels” (Thursday, Feb. 7, 9:30 p.m.) Emmy-winning journalist Carlos Watson interviews Lee Daniels to discuss the director’s path from West Philly to his the red-hot center of Hollywood. Learn how Daniels conquered both the independent and mainstream sides of Hollywood, directing and producing critical darlings like The Butler and Empire.
BREAKING BIG “Danai Gurira” (re-airs nationally on Friday, Feb. 8, 9:30 p.m. / pre-empted locally) Growing up in Zimbabwe, actress Danai Gurira didn’t see many film and television characters who looked like her. By embracing her culture and her differences, she was able to score roles in such smash hits as Black Panther and “The Walking Dead.” She also wrote the Broadway play Eclipsed, which won critical acclaim and a Tony Award. BREAKING BIG host Carlos Watson relays Gurira’s quest to blaze a trail for more representations of African women in popular culture.
THE EARLY BLACK PRESS: TENNESSEE VOICES LIFTED (Friday, Feb. 8, 9:30 p.m.) NPT’s original production, The Early Black Press, received a Midsouth Regional Emmy. One of the rights African Americans gained as a result of the Civil War was the right to free expression. Rather than rely on the newspapers of the day to carry their stories and the stories they were interested in, Black Tennesseans started their own newspapers, which were read by black and white Tennesseans alike.
AMERICAN MASTERS “Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock ’n’ Roll” (Tuesday, Feb. 12, 11:02 p.m.) With his boogie-woogie piano playing rooted in blues, rhythm & blues, and jazz, Fats Domino became one of the inventors, along with Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, of rock ‘n’ roll, a revolutionary genre that united young black and white audiences.
POV SHORTS: POSITIVE IMAGES (Monday, Feb. 18, 9:30 p.m.) Two short documentaries about amateur archivists who chronicle the black experience on either a community or personal level.
WESSYNGTON PLANTATION: A FAMILY’S ROAD TO FREEDOM (Monday, Feb. 25, 11:30 p.m.) NPT’s Emmy-winning original production based on John F. Baker Jr.’s book about his family, The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation.
AMERICAN MASTERS “B.B. King: The Life of Riley” (Tuesday, Feb. 26, 11:02 p.m.) B.B. King, born Riley B. King, was one of the most influential and celebrated blues musicians of all time. Director Jon Brewer worked on the film with King, and with the cooperation of The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss., for two years, before King died on May 14, 2015. His story of struggle and triumph is told by the man himself, his family, and fellow musicians.
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