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Henry Louis Gates Jr. hopes new documentary series will change educational system

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. hopes that his latest PBS documentary,” The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, will not only educate the public but also lead to reform in the nation’s public school system.

“We need one documentary to show the whole sweep of history to make it easy for teachers to incorporate black history into the larger story of American history. It is too much work and too expensive for teachers to do it any other way,” he says.

The series runs for the next six weeks and aims to cover the full scope of African American history from 1513, which marks the arrival of Juan Garrido, the first documented African in the U.S. to the present-day historic election of President Barack Obama. Gates knows that in order for such history to be fully integrated into the nation’s school systems, he will need the support of politicians.

“We need the Congressional Black Caucus and political leaders to press for mandating this full integration in our common core curriculum. I hope this series will be a tool to facilitate that.”

One of the lesser-known stories in black history is the life of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He was eventually freed and wrote his memoir, 12 Years a Slave, which has been made into one of the year’s most highly acclaimed films. Still some have criticized director Steve McQueen’s depiction of slaves being beaten, tortured or killed. At a New York City screening last week hosted by Kevin Powell, the Rev. Al Sharpton defended the film.

“I don’t like to see the blood and brutality but that’s what happened,” he says. “Unless we see the vicious part of the story we cannot appreciate where we are now.”

One of the night’s attendees, Lil’ Mama is grateful to find herself in a good space. Just a few short years ago the rapper was being ridiculed for crashing the stage during Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ 2009 MTV Video Music Awards performance. But she is now receiving praise for her role as the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in the VH1 movie “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.”

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