Throughout history, Black people have been able to make a way out of no way. And now, a new PBS series from Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. takes a closer look at our incredible resolve. Written, produced and hosted by Gates, Making Black America: Through the Grapevine is a four-part series that honors the resilience Black people have shown throughout history in the face of decades of exclusion and discrimination.
In each episode, Gates talks to educators, politicians and cultural leaders about the ways Black people have managed to create their own society, complete with business districts, schools, professional and social organizations to help us thrive in spite of the odds.
Throughout his career, Gates has blessed us with documentaries that examined everything from Africa’s greatest civilizations to the Black church. But as he told the Associated Press, Making Black America “shows the true complexity of the African American experience.” “We need to have our self-image, our self-esteem affirmed, because so many actors in our society are trying to tear down our self-esteem, trying to tear down our belief in ourselves,” he said.
In some cases, our ingenuity has been about survival, like the creation of “The Negro Motorist Green-book,” a state by state guidebook for Black travelers published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1967. The Green-book included a list of hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses that served Black customers in spite of the Jim Crow laws that made segregation legal.
And as the series points out, Black people continue to take solace in spaces, like music festivals, vacation destinations and corners of social media (hello, Black Twitter) that are all our own. “This is a demonstration of Black agency, the way we created a world within a world,” Gates said.
Making Black America: Through the Grapevine premiered October 4 on PBS stations around the country.