Press Reaction

Chicago Tribune/Steve Johnson
"In tonight's FRONTLINE , the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. offers a potent personal essay on the growing gulf between the African American middle class and underclass and how it feels to be observing all this from a chair at Harvard named for W.E.B. Du Bois.

Gates interviews leading thinkers and veterans of the civil rights movement, including William Julius Wilson, Jesse Jackson, and Angela Davis, en route to concluding that the national conversation needs to be not about race, but about class. He reminds us that Du Bois himself, over the course of his life, lost faith in his idea of a "talented tenth" that would bring the rest of the race along with it. Without saying so explicitly, Gates is asking in this documentary whether he and his academic colleagues would be among those who caused Du Bois to lose heart."

 

Philadelphia Daily News/Linda Wright Moore "...For African-Americans who yearn for the sense of connectedness and nurturing that characterized segregated black communities before civil rights and integration created avenues of escape and opportunity Gates' program explains how we got from then to now--and challenges black America's 'Talented Tenth' to contemplate where we should go from here.

One weakness of the program is that almost all the commentary comes from the affluent and educated side of the black American divide. The only voices of the underclass belong to unnamed homeless men Gates greets daily as he crosses Harvard Yard, and from one sinister young gang member, 'Mark,' who is photographed in silhouette to hide his face."

"...The most provocative comments come from Maulana Karenga, who challenges the black middle class to transform America, to make freedom more inclusive and expansive."

 

New York Times/Walter Goodman "In 'The Two Nations of Black America,' Mr. Gates, who is the Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, draws a picture of growing black success along with deepening black despair. He argues in this thoughtful edition of FRONTLINE that black professionals and entrepreneurs now have more in common with their white colleagues and peers than with the brothers and sisters they have left behind in the inner cities."

"Older actors in the civil rights movement like Julian Bond, Angela Davis and Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver give their historical perspectives, but the program's focus is on the current stark divide. Mr. Gates describes his feelings about ghetto gangs in language not often heard from black intellectuals: 'I find it hard to concede that these young hoodlums are part of the same community I belong to." He says that 'gangsta culture' makes him want to holler, 'Since when does being black mean embracing the worst of what we can be?"

 

Boston Globe/Bruce McCabe "[This] FRONTLINE ...is a cornucopia of news, interpretation, context, facts, information, political and social history, insights, and revelations. The show examines class differences within the African-American community but also looks at the same differences in the nation as a whole. It's a vivid, compelling portrait of a formerly, close-knit African-American community now fragmented."

"...The commentary ranges from patient and moderately hopeful to despairing and disillusioned. Some of it echoes the intellectual journey of W. E. B. Du Bois, the preeminent historian and civil rights leader Gate's chair at Harvard is named after."

"...When the documentary cuts to the streets, the commentary is less articulate but every bit as impassioned."

"...The combination of testimony from the street and more-intellectual environments is quite compelling, even riveting."

 

Hartford Courant/Clarence Page "In this FRONTLINE ...Gates explores how much the walls of segregation have tumbled down, only to be replaced by apparently walls of class."

"...Gates, who is Harvard's Du Bois professor of Afro-American Studies, gets most informative when he examines ways the black 'haves' can help the 'have nots.'

He offers a glimpse at a Boston program called STRIVE that helps young unemployed dropouts polish their attitudes and behavior to make themselves job-ready. Nobody graduates from the three-week program until he or she gets a job--and almost everyone graduates."

"...Did the jobs make the young men behave better, or did their jobs come as a consequence of their good behavior?

It is in not pressing such questions that Gates falls short, in my view. He adequately assesses our progress and our slippage in the quest for racial equality since the 60s. But he fails to offer a more complete prescription, other than more conversation."

 

Dallas Morning News/Chris Vognar "The premise is blunt, disconcerting and all too true: While many blacks reaped the rewards of the civil rights movement and affirmative action and gained middle-class status, just as many were left behind in an expanding lower class of poverty. Both groups are larger now than they were in the late '60s and, as Dr. Gates fears, 'Never the twain shall meet.'"

"...Dr Gates' look at how and why the split continues to haunt us includes interview with scholars (William Julius Wilson, Cornel West), activists (Eldridge Cleaver, Maulana Karenga) and power brokers (Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond). But the voice that rings loudest is that of Dr. Gates himself, a proud member of the black intelligentsia who nonetheless feels pangs of guilt , regret and responsibility for those left behind."

"Unfortunately, Dr. Gates' prognosis is bleak. He sees potential solutions being plagued by ideological extremes of the left and right; a staunch defender of affirmative action, he believes personal responsibility is crucial to bridging the black class chasm."

 

 

 
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