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African American Documentaries

Authors - Biographies - History


Langston Hughes, Poet
Provides biographical information about poet Langston Hughes, with comments by historians and other experts about his life, thoughts and contributions.

Charles Johnson: a Conversation with Charles Johnson
Author Charles Johnson describes his literary objective: to explore classic, metaphysical questions from East and West against the backdrop of African life and history.

Toni Morrison
Melvyn Bragg interviews African American author Toni Morrison, who discusses the Black experience in America and her expression of that experience in her novel Beloved. Interspersed are readings from the novel and vintage photos of the slave era and the cruelties to which the slaves were subjected.

Toni Morrison: A Conversation with Toni Morrison
Morrison reads from two of her novels, Beloved and Jazz, and discusses her views of how the experiences of African Americans have contributed to American literature.

Gloria Naylor: a Conversation with Gloria Naylor
Author Gloria Naylor speaks on the influence of other black women writers, the influence of a southern background, early involvement with religion, learning to articulate one's experience, writing in different voices, and writing to explore one's beliefs.

Alice Walker: A Conversation with Alice Walker
Author Alice Walker discusses her life, contemporary America, the "womanist" perspective, and reads from her poetry.

August Wilson: A Conversation with August Wilson
Pittsburgh-born playwright August Wilson talks about his roots in the black community, how his plays express the African-American experience, how the African heritage of Black Americans is both expressed and repressed in American society today, and the importance of blues as cultural expression.

John Wideman: A Conversation with John Wideman
Pittsburgh-raised author John Edgar Wideman candidly discusses the dilemma of the committed African American intellectual torn between the urban underclass and a predominantly white, middle class literary audience. He writes because "African Americans have to carry alternative versions of reality in our heads and the model for doing that exists in art."


Jim Brown: All-American
A potrait of the controversial football player/motion picture actor/political activist Jim Brown. Brown reflects on his life and work. Friends, associates, and family offer commentary. Touches upon Brown's brushes with the law and his relationship with Richard Pryor.

George Washington Carver, Botanist
Presents the life and career of the revolutionary African American botanist.

Frederick Douglass
Tells the life story of Frederick Douglass, who started life as a slave in Maryland and later became a leading spokesman for African Americans, dedicating his life to the abolition of slavery and the struggle for equality and justice. Includes comments from biographers and historians.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Scholar and Activist
Chronicles the life and times of W.E.B. Du Bois, a man whose intellect and action facilitated great strides in the movement toward Black self-determination in the United States.

One Shot: The Life and Work of Teenie Harris (2001)
Presents the life and career of Teenie Harris, the African American photographer who documented the lives of ordinary people in Pittsburgh, Pa., as well as the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Matthew Henson, Explorer
Chronicles the life and career of arctic explorer Matthew Henson.

Jesse Jackson: Civil Rights Leader and Politician
Adapted from the book Jesse Jackson, Civil Rights Leader and Politician by Robert Jakoubek

Jesse Jackson, I am Somebody
A candid portrait of a dynamic and controversial man which examines his rise to prominence.

Unforgivable Blackness: the Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
This PBS documentary by Ken Burns tells the story of Jack Johnson, the first African American boxer to win the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World, a milestone in African American progress that spurred much racial conflict throughout the United States.

Colin Powell: A Soldier's Campaign Colin Powell: A Soldier's Campaign
A revealing profile telling the story of Colin Powell, examining his promising future, and also including interviews of his family and friends, and rare archival footage from his distinguished career.

Jackie Robinson
Profiles Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in professional sports in the 1940s. Examines the impact Robinson had on baseball, civil rights, and racial intolerance in the United States. Includes comments from broadcast journalists, politicians, sports figures, and Robinson's widow.

The Murder of Emmett Till
The brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black boy who whistled at a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store in 1955, was a powerful catalyst for the civil rights movement. Although Till's killers were apprehended, they were quickly acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury and proceeded to sell their story to a journalist, providing grisly details of the murder. Three months after Till's body was recovered, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2005)
The film that helped reopen one of history's most notorious cold case civil rights murders is the result of the director's 10-year journey to uncover the truth. In August, 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley of Chicago sent her only child, Emmett Louis Till, to visit relatives in the Mississippi Delta. Little did she know that only 8 days later, Emmett would be abducted from his Great-Uncle's home, brutally beaten and murdered for one of the oldest Southern taboos : whistling at a white woman in public. It was Beauchamp's nine years of investigation, summarized in the film, that was primarily responsible for the Justice Department reopening the case.


4 Little Girls 4 Little Girls
When a bomb tears through the basement of a Black Baptist church on a peaceful fall morning, it takes the lives of four young girls: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. This racially motivated crime, taking place at a time when the civil rights movement is burning with a new flame, could have doused that flame forever. Instead it fuels a nation's outrage and brings Birmingham to the forefront of America's concern.

African-Americans in World War II
Using interviews, news reels, and movie footage, this documentary tells the history of Tuskegee Institute, the Army-Air Force training program in Alabama, and the exploits of its graduates. It also provides footage of performers on the black radio show, Jubilee.

African American War Heroes: True Stories of Patriotism & Valor

Africans in America Africans in America: America's Journey through Slavery
A four part PBS (WGBH Boston) series portraying the struggles of the African people in America. This series exposes the truth through surprising revelations, dramiatic recreations, rare archival photography, riveting first-person accounts and defines the reality of slaver's past through insightful commentary.

The Buffalo Soldiers
A photographic history of the two black cavalry regiments that served to keep peace on the frontier from 1867 to 1891. Also shown is the dedication ceremony at Fort Leavenworth of a monument to the Buffalo soldiers by sculptor Eddie Dixon, with speeches by Gen. Colin Powell and other high ranking black officers of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years
This WGBH Boston production offers a seven volume comprehensive history of the people, the stories, the events and the issues of the civil rights struggle in the United States from the mid 1950's to the mid 1980's.

The Fabulous 60s: 1961 (Civil Rights Movement)

Fabulous 60s: 1964 (Civil Rights Movement)

History of Black Achievement in America
This series originally shown on public television highlights the contributions of Black Americans to the history of the United States.

Jazz Jazz
This PBS special by Ken Burns consists of 10 episodes tracing the history of jazz from its roots in the African-American community of New Orleans to its heights and continuing presence.

An adaptation of Alex Haley's "Roots", in which he traces his family's history from the mid-18th century when one of his ancestors, Kunta Kinte, was captured and sold into slavery. Follows the struggle for freedom that began with the boy's abduction to America and continued throughout the generations that followed.

Roots: the Next Generations
Continuation of the chronicle of Alex Haley's family history, covering from 1882 through the 1970's.