Harvard professor/TV host and author Henry Louis Gates, Jr. isn’t playing when it comes to Black History Month. And you shouldn’t be either, because there is truth to the saying “A people who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” Gates’ latest project, Many Rivers to Cross the 6-part series that aired on public television last fall, is now out on DVD and yes, you should probably pick it up.
“For Tom Joyner and the Tom Joyner Morning Show, every day is Black History Month,” Gates says to the TJMS crew this morning. “You’ve inspired me from the time we did that Black History book for McDonald’s back in the day. I realize that I had to be part of translating what the most brilliant scholars do to make it accessible for everyday people from kids in the first grade to everyday middle class people, too.”
The series covers many little-known Black History moments including things like the Detroit riots and of course, the slave trade, but this time from the perspective of the Africans who sold their own people.
“One of the reasons for the Detroit riots (of 1943) was about Black people competing for the first time in the automobile industry, which during the war became the defense industry, for jobs with White people. And it drove white people crazy. One of the reasons that we put it in there is that so much that we think of as racial animosity really has an economic basis. If you think about slavery, race has been a metaphor for economic exploitation all along and even to this day.”
As Tom himself found out on a recent trip to Australia, Africans have made an impact people all over the world. Aborigines who have brown skin, but blonde hair, surprised him. Gates says that that speaks to thousands of years of evolution. “They went from Africa, through India to Australia and then simultaneously then went North to Europe,” Gates says.
“So people were evolving at different levels and in different ways. “But in evolution, people went from dark to light and that’s how it happened and you see remnants of that through the aborigines and in people in the South Sea Islands. In Denzel’s Washington’s Mississippi Masala you see very Black people in Southern India. That is recorded in our genes. And for guests in our series, we trace people’s habitypes, which tell where your ancestors came from. We just filmed Ben Affleck and Stephen King. For Finding Your Roots Season 2, we have 30 guests and it will start to air in October.”
You can purchase Many Rivers to Cross on DVD here.