February is Black History Month, and to mark the occasion, the OG of premium historical programming PBS is once again offering a suite of options celebrating African-American life and culture.
Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard professor and creator of Finding Your Roots, continues that series, now in Season 5, with personalities this season including Michael Strahan, S. Epatha Merkerson, Kehinde Wiley, and The Wire alum Michael K. Williams. It airs Tuesdays until Feb. 26, then April 2 and April 9 at 8 p.m. ET.
One of PBS's hippest offerings isn't even airing on the network proper, but comes from PBS Digital Studios and is set to stream on YouTube and Facebook Watch. Say It Loud, which begins Feb. 7, is hosted by YouTube sensations Evelyn Ngugi of Evelyn from the Internets and Azie Dungey, who created the web series Ask a Slave based on her experiences portraying an enslaved person at the Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia. Part cultural critique, part talk show and part history lesson, Say It Loud explores Black American culture and its impact on broader communities and trends. "PBS has long had an appreciation of Black history and culture, but Say It Loud is the first series developed for online audiences specifically interested in celebratory cultural content," Brandon Arolfo, Senior Director of PBS Digital Studios said in a statement. "We're lucky to work with this talented group of women to create a funny, authentic and enlightening series that will ignite an inspirational online community and extend the PBS Digital Studios brand to new, diverse audiences."
Celebrating Musical Heroes
Music features prominently in the lineup. Austin City Limits featured blues maestro Buddy Guy and hip-hop artist August Greene on its Feb. 2 episode. And later in the month, the American Masters series will present two programs on iconic black musicians: Sammy Davis Jr. and pioneering country artist Charley Pride.
I've Gotta Be Me chronicles the life and times of Sammy Davis Jr., exploring the entertainer's many talents and his complex identity amid sweeping changes in society including the Civil Rights movement. Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis and Whoopi Goldberg are among the talking heads in the story, which leans heavily on Davis' TV, film and concert performances. Sammy Davis Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me airs Feb. 19 at 9 p.m. ET.
Similarly, Charley Pride: I'm Just Me examines the life of the country singer — a man who grew up in segregated Mississippi and went on to become a celebrated artist in a genre noticeably absent of African-American performers. It airs Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. ET.
There's more black arts content outside of music. Independent Lens' "Black Memorabilia," airing Feb. 4 at 10 p.m., goes from the South to Brooklyn to China, meeting the people who reproduce and reclaim black memorabilia, objects that come with intense baggage owing to their racially charged connotations.
For fans of the stage, Live from Lincoln Center's presents Pipeline, Dominique Morisseau's riveting and critically acclaimed play that follows Nya, an inner-city teacher desperate to save her son after he gets in trouble at school and is at risk of being pulled away forever. It airs Feb. 8 at 9 p.m. Eastern.
The Past Through a New Lens
Of course, no Black History Month slate of programming would be complete without a glimpse into social issues and history itself. And although Reconstruction: America After the Civil War and Charm City won't air in February, they continue celebrating black history into the spring.
The Independent Lens series offers up "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" a look into intimate moments in the lives of people in the rural Hale County, Alabama community in America's Black Belt. (Feb. 11 at 10 p.m. ET.)
Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, from Henry Louis Gates Jr., examines the period after the Civil War when black Americans had a brief moment of self-sufficiency, voting rights and even positions in government before being met with racist violence. (April 9 and 16 at 9 p.m. ET.)
Boss: The Black Experience in Business probes the untold story of African-American entrepreneurship, tracking black achievements in the business world then and now. (April 23 at 8 p.m. ET.)
Charm City, on the shortlist for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar, goes inside the heart of Baltimore, where citizens, police and government officials work to repair and revitalize the city after years of social strife. (April 22 at 10 p.m. ET.)
Finally, PBS will air encores of previously debuted programs, including Antiques Roadshow's "Celebrating Black Americana" on Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. American Masters' Maya Angelou special, "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise" also airs Feb. 4. (Check local listings.) And on Feb. 8 at 10:30 p.m., Breaking Big re-airs its episode on Danai Gurira.
All these programs will be available for streaming at various times; check PBS.org for more information.