Black History on T.V.
Now in its 24th year, Black History Month is being observed in dramatic style on public, commercial and cable television. Programs highlighting historical events as well as the achievements of a wide range of African American personalities will grace prime-time and other programming slots on several television stations around the country.
Unfortunately, some of the networks have fallen into the habit of lumping virtually all of their Black-oriented programming into the month of February. Some of these programs are scheduled at ungodly hours, bringing into question how much the programmers truly value these shows. Others, though characterized as African American programs, actually address people and issues concerning Africans or the Diaspora.
Still, there is little doubt that the programming about Black history available on television today is more bountiful than it was a decade ago.
This year, the Public Broadcast System, Black Entertainment Television, The History Channel and the commercial networks all have programs scheduled. And though half of the month is over, there is still much to see.
Below is a sampling of the shows airing on the History Channel that should attract scholarly and mainstream audiences. For listings featured by other broadcasters, consult your local TV/Cable guide.
— Cheryl D. Fields
The Underground Railroad Part II — (The History Channel Classroom, Feb. 18, 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. PT): Hosted by Alfre Woodard, this program chronicles the stories of men and women — Black and White, renowned and forgotten — who risked their lives by participating in the Underground Railroad. The program also highlights preservation efforts being undertaken by the National Park Service to keep the spirit of the Railroad alive.
The Talented Tenth — (History Showcase, Feb. 19, 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. PT): Takes a look at the successes of five African American families from North Carolina that have risen to prominence despite formidable odds.
Shaka Zulu — (Movies in Time, Sat., Feb. 19, 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT): This acclaimed miniseries retraces the history of Shaka Zulu — who, though born out of wedlock to a disowned African princess, grew up to unite the tribes of Zululand into a proud and mighty nation.
The African Burial Ground: People and Politics (History Showcase, Sun., Feb. 20, 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. PT): The third episode in this four-part series describes how ordinary citizens clashed with U.S. government agencies over the handling of New York’s African Burial Ground upon its discovery.
South Africa: Free At Last (20th Century with Mike Wallace, Tues., Feb. 22, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET/11 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT): This program examines the history of South Africa and the incredible changes it underwent in the 20th century.
Discharged Without Honor (History’s Mysteries, Wed., Feb. 23, 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT): This History Channel world premiere examines the events surrounding a 1906 midnight raid on Brownsville, Texas, which left one man dead and an entire city in terror. In response, President Theodore Roosevelt discharged an entire infantry of Black soldiers, effectively convicting them without so much as a trial.
Black Georgetown Remembered (History Showcase, Sat., Feb. 26, 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. P.T.): Based on oral interviews to preserve the historical context, this program explores the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., as remembered by its Black citizens who once lived there and those who still worship in its churches.
Murder in Memphis: Unanswered Questions (History Undercover, Sat., Feb. 26, 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT): Was Martin Luther King Jr. killed by James Earl Ray or was there a conspiracy behind the murder? This program follows the trail with controversial trial lawyer William Pepper, who maintains that King was killed by a Mafia-funded policeman and that the assassination was covered up by the FBI.
The African Burial Ground: An Open Window (History Showcase, Sun., Feb. 27, 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. PT): The final installment in this four-part series explores the long-range impact of New York City’s African Burial Ground on art, literature, history, science and education in the United States.
Harlem Hellfighters (The History Channel Classroom, Mon., Feb. 28, 6 a.m. ET/3 a.m. PT): The story of the 369th Infantry Regiment, a Harlem-based New York National Guard unit that fought two wars in 1918 — one against the Germans, the other against prejudice and discrimination at home.
Royal Federal Blues (Special Presentation, Tues., Feb. 29, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET/10 a.m. and 3 p.m. PT): The story of the United States Colored Troops, the 175,000 African Americans who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Despite hardships ranging from racism to jealousy, Black soldiers would win many honors for courage under fire. More than 70,000 became casualties.
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