Sunday, February 12, 2006

Black History Month

Since 1926, February has been Black History Month. In light of this celebration, I want to raise awareness of some amazing programming on PBS (Channel 13 in the NY-NJ area) -

One - the documentary African American Lives hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., which traces the family history and lives of eight prominent African Americans namely Dr. Ben Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Mae Jemison, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey - oh and Henry Louis Gates Jr. himself too. All the stories are fascinating but the best I think are of Tucker and Winfrey.

Tucker's family on his mother's side is one of the few examples of black families and a community staying the south instead of being part of the largest migration in the US - of blacks from the south moving north after the Civil War. The most compelling reason for why Tucker's maternal family stayed back was the strength of the church where his great-great-great grandfather (maybe even another generation beyond) was pastor.

Winfrey's story is amazing simply for the fact that going back five generations (and maybe more); Winfrey men have been great proponents of the importance of education. Soon after reconstruction, her paternal grandfather five generations back taught himself to read and write in ten years; furthermore when the local black school was in trouble and was likely to be shut down due to lack of funds from Washington, he moved the school on to his property and supported it - he knew that education was the way to break the long legacy and chains of slavery and bondage. Watching Oprah now, it is clear that education is her mission too; it seems to be in her blood.

I could go on about this but I will not - instead, I would recommend highly, that everyone make an effort to view this series and appreciate the rich history, in a way, of us all.

Two - the film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman based on the novel of the same name by Ernest J. Gaines, which is a great epic story of Miss Jane Pittman - born into slavery in the 1850s to part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Amazing history. On a side note, Cicely Tyson won an Emmy for her portrayal of Miss Jane Pittman in 1974.

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