The United States would be a very different country if not for African-Americans, who played a central role in shaping the country and continue to define it. This Peabody Spotlight takes a look at storytelling that has helped bring the history of African-Americans to light.
Groundbreaking television programs such as 1977 Peabody Awards winner “Roots” and more recent dramatizations like “The Book of Negroes,” a 2015 Peabody Awards finalist, depict the harsh reality of the slave trade and its repercussions. Based on novels written by black men, such stories further our understanding of the complex history of a people.
Noted historian, author and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr. ventured a little deeper in his six-part series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” a Peabody Award winner in 2013. His exhaustive research revealed the identity of the first African to arrive in Florida in 1513, more than 250 years before the founding of the country.
“The African-American people have played a central role in building this country since before its inception,” he notes. “I’ve always wanted to tell their history—five centuries in the making. It’s a living history.”
Indeed, much of the footage reveals the impact African-Americans have had in the U.S.—from popular music and culture to food. It also explores their importance in redefining the American Dream.
“Black people changed American society. They held the country to its ideals, even when it abandoned them,” Gates says.
Peabody Spotlight is a digital series produced by the Peabody Media Center at the University of Georgia. Each piece draws from the vast Peabody Awards archives, the third largest repository of audio-visual materials in the United States. Peabody Spotlight focuses on significant societal issues as represented through the storytelling of Peabody winners and finalists, as well as 75 years of broadcasting’s best programming.