Episode One: The Black Atlantic

The Black Atlantic explores the truly global experiences that created the African American people. Beginning a full century before the first documented “20-and-odd” slaves arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, the episode portrays the earliest Africans, both slave and free, who arrived on the North American shores. Soon afterwards, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade would become a vast empire connecting three continents. Through stories of individuals caught in its web, like a 10-year-old girl named Priscilla who was transported from Sierra Leone to South Carolina in the mid-18th century, we trace the emergence of plantation slavery in the American South. The late 18th century saw a global explosion of freedom movements, and The Black Atlantic examines what that Era of Revolutions—American, French and Haitian—would mean for African Americans, and for slavery in America.

The Black Atlantic, episode one of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,  premieres on PBS on October 22, 2013, 8-9 pm ET.  Check the local listings on the broadcast schedule.

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  • Calvin Pearson

    I respect Mr. Gates but after many years of receiving documentation on the arrival of the first 20 and odd Africans in Colonial America in 1619 he still misstates history by saying they arrived at Jamestown. They came ashore at Point Comfort, today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. They 20 and odd never traveled to or landed at Jamestown. President Obama declared Fort Monroe a National Monument because that is where the first Africans landed. I wish Gates and PBS would have gotten their facts straight before producing the series. For the true story go to http://www.project1619.org

    • akadiva

      Thank you for this information. I never new this fact! Learn something new every day!

  • Renate Sanders

    I, too, have great respect for Mr. Gates, but I must mimic the sentiments of Mr. Pearson. As a long time Hamptonian, the landing of the “20 and odd” Africans at Point Comfort is a part of our local history, of which I’m well acquainted. I do hope that the correction will be made in the series. There are many options at the producer’s disposal for doing this, such as subscript, post-show commentary, or, if nothing else, a message right here on this web site!
    Despite this faux pas, I do look forward to viewing this series, and I congratulate Professor Gates and his team for bringing it forth.

  • Maylin

    Actually there is a proven pre-columbian African presence in South America (Olmec heads, presence of Mende script on stone and in language).

    • quoVadis w. wright

      we were here in huge numbers in mexico and every where the spanish landed before jamestown.we recognise jamestown because so much because the revolutionary war allowed america to become victorious over england but we followed english laws and language and of course we got to write the history books which completley ignore the spanish accomplishments in bringing us here first.

  • Sabin Streeter

    Hi, I was one of the producers on this series. Just wanted to chime in about the Point Comfort issue and let you all know that the program clearly states that the 20-and-odd landed in Point Comfort. The other producers and I exchanged emails with Mr. Pearson and spoke at length with a researcher that Mr. Pearson recommended to us. We greatly benefitted from the exchanged and we are proud to get the history right about Point Comfort. Thanks to all who have written in. We hope that you all will enjoy the program. Sincerely, Sabin Streeter

    • Calvin Pearson

      Hello Sabin. Yes we exchanged emails. The bottom line was that the series was done and it was too late to make changes. You taped a segment at Jamestown saying that one day in August a ship arrived carrying the first Africans to Colonial America. That is not true. The White Lion never travelled to Jamestown and the 20 and Odd Africans never went to Jamestown. To try to appease Project 1619 you added a voice over to say they arrived first at Point Comfort. You then said Anthony Johnson had a plantation at Jamestown that the Virginia Colony took it away from him. That is not true. Anthony Johnson owned a 250 plantation on the Maryland Eastern Shore that he named Angola. I only asked your staff to do a fact check. I live a few miles from Point Comfort and I know the truth.

      • Sabin Streeter

        Calvin: The program was fact-checked and reviewed by a scholarly board. It may contain errors, of course; even fact-checkers and scholars can make mistakes. But I don’t believe one was made regarding Anthony Johnson. The “Angola” farm you refer to was owned and named by one of his descendants. Not by him. As for the White Lion, the program does not assert that it traveled to Jamestown with the 20-and-odd. It asserts the 20-and-odd landed in Point Comfort and that some were conveyed to Jamestown–a view that is held by many scholars and supported by census records. I am sorry if the program was confusing in this or any other regard. We tried to cover a lot of history in an hour. But we did our best to make it accurate and I believe it is. Yours, Sabin

        • Calvin Pearson

          We are not going to resolve this through this medium. I have a saying” History can not be changed, only misinterpreted”. I stand by the research that I presented. Best of luck with the rest of the series.

  • Jill Springer Forrest

    I am learning many things I did not know, but the constant pics of Mr. Gates makes me wish they had at least used illustration to highlight a point knowing real photos were few. Hopefully, this will improve as the series goes on as he should not be the focal point and it bothers me he is inserted in most every frame.

    • Kathy Andrews

      I have not seen it, but Mr. Gates is a wonderful PR man. I will watch it though because it takes a great deal of work to produce a documentary. I just wish PBS would consider other producers besides Gates and what’s his name.

  • Shirley

    Mr. Gates has done an extraordinary job! Those of us who have something to share that is beneficiary should do so without complaints, criticisms, just information– informative, proven, information that he can use if corrections need to be made. Stop complaining about something this great. Many of us just look for something to be misstated so that we can complain! Please do your corrections with the love Mr. Gates is presenting this to us with. Do you realize how much work it takes to do this and the passion with which this is done? This is a God idea! Add to it, do not subtract from it negatively. I love seeing the “man” who thought enough of the world to share it with us. Show him all you want!
    Much Love

    • Calvin Pearson

      WE tried sharing the true information with Gates for many years but he refused to accept it. That is why we now share constructive criticisms.

      • Shirley

        Feedback is always excellent! Many benefit.

      • Horace Batiste

        The problem you are fighting is that he teaches at Harvard. His comments are accepted by the owners of mass media. The info is good eye candy but the true stories is far from what he is allowed to state. For instance I’m convinced that Africans were in Louisiana for a very long time. In fact Paramount kings were in the New World when Colombo landed. The kingship system is a West African system.
        I’m saying all this to say do your research and try to find or use another media source to get the truth out.

    • Jill Springer Forrest

      It does take a lot of work and he’s getting paid quite well! I didn’t know the rules excluded those that have constructive criticism. I’m a paying supporter of PBS so in turn I can vocalise, anyone can and should.

      • Althea Walters

        Professor Gates:

        Hello there!

        It must have taken a lot of hard work to prepare this documentary. For one, the scenery in the different locations is beautiful. You have been able to show parts of America that I will not have the time to visit. However, I am grateful that you cleared up the fact that slavery was in the East, long before it became pervasive in North America, or even the Caribbean.

        In your presentation of the documentary you showed how important it is to examine facts, and not mere opinion. If I ever get to Harvard, you will be the first choice of lecturer/academic mentor. Great job, Professor Gates!

  • http://www.eatmygaychicken.com/ Alan Motley

    Please for the love of god stream these episodes online too! It is hard to watch these via regular tv… This is so important to be able to share the episodes out via Facebook and get more people to watch!

    • http://www.wnet.org/ WNET

      Hello Alan. We agree with you about the importance of sharing these episodes online. The full episode is available online the day after the premiere broadcast. You can find the full episode on this program website and on the PBS video portal. To-date, you can watch episode one, The Black Atlantic, by going to the Video page of this site (see Video on the top navigation bar beneath the show’s logo). Thanks for tuning in, whether during broadcast or online.

      • http://www.eatmygaychicken.com/ Alan Motley

        Well you just made my morning! Thank you for the response!

      • Ree

        Unfortunately, The episodes are still not available in Canada, where there are many descendants living. This is also our history.

  • jjdpro media production

    The only problem with this documentary is the fact that “people of color” were here already here when Columbus arrived..

  • trevor

    But why ONLY Henry Louis Gates Jr.? He seems to have monopolized the black experience with the blessings of PBS. There must be another qualified black scholar out there. Plus, he gets in the way – skip appears in EVERY FRAME. Goodness!

    • Lin

      HA HA, it’s funny the way he pops in all the time. That’s my only gripe so far… Too much of Prof Gates!

  • Sandi

    What was the song they were singing in the streets on New Orleans at the end of the show? “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” …?

  • E Hall

    I watched the first episode and encouraged many others to watch it also. This is a history that all Americans need to know and one which we have all been denied. However, I was disappointed that the connection between the successful Haitian revolution and the Louisiana purchase was not exploited. All Americans need to know that Napoleon’s loss to the African Slaves in Haiti contributed greatly to his decision to sell the French owned Louisiana territory to the United States for a fraction of it’s worth. Where would America be if that territory were still French?

  • Nanci Richards

    I wanted to share this with my class, and being a teacher , i could not show it from my school computer. I had to plug in my Iphone with my own internet. Why is the DOE blocking this ? I tried to order a copy , but it on preorder till Jan. I am teaching this now to my US classes, so it would be great to have access to it.

  • Senabella Gill

    Finally, a story done by someone who has a proven research track record and respected by many. I have to see this and will be discussing it online after.

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The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.