African American


About the Film

Tennis champion Althea Gibson (1927-2003) was the unlikely queen of the segregated tennis world in the 1950s. She was the first African American to play and win at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open) — a decade before Arthur Ashe.

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel

Full Episode

Watch the full documentary Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel here on the American Masters web site. Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel engages leading historians, biographers and personal friends to reveal a complex woman who experienced profound identity shifts during her life and struggled with the two great issues of her day: the changing role of women and […]

Cab Calloway: Sketches

Cab’s Straight Hair

Horn player Gerald Wilson, jazz writer Gary Giddens, and jazz critic/cultural historian Stanley Crouch discuss how Cab’s straight hair, unusual in people of African American descent, and his ability to toss it while performing, played into his persona and popularity as an entertainer. Cab Calloway: Sketches premieres nationally Monday, February 27 at 10 p.m. (check […]

Bill T. Jones: A Good Man

Biographical Essay and Tribute

Read an essay on the life and achievements of renown dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones written by John Rockwell, originally presented in 2010 when Jones was bestowed with the Kennedy Center Honors.

Sam Cooke: Crossing Over

Crossing Over

THIRTEEN’s American Masters celebrates the wonderful world of music game-changer and definitive soul singer Sam Cooke in Sam Cooke: Crossing Over, airing Monday, January 11 at 9 p.m. on PBS Watch a Preview Narrated by Danny Glover, the film features archival footage and interviews with Cooke’s family and intimates including Muhammad Ali, Herb Albert, James […]

Zora Neale Hurston – Jump at the Sun

Jump at the Sun

Zora Neale Hurston wrote the following letter to Countee Cullen, her friend and fellow writer, in 1943. In it, she discusses lynching, segregation, and her feelings about white “liberals.” March 5, 1943 Dear Countee: Thanks a million for your kind letter. I am always proud to have a word of praise from you because your […]

Ralph Ellison: An American Journey

An American Journey

by Anne Seidlitz In writing INVISIBLE MAN in the late 1940s, Ralph Ellison brought onto the scene a new kind of black protagonist, one at odds with the characters of the leading black novelist at the time, Richard Wright. If Wright’s characters were angry, uneducated, and inarticulate — the consequences of a society that oppressed […]

Sweet Honey in The Rock: Raise Your Voice

About Sweet Honey in the Rock

by Horace Clarence Boyer This essay originally appeared as the introduction to a Sweet Honey in the Rock songbook. INTRODUCTION On February 28, 1927 in Memphis, Tennessee, the blind sanctified singer Mamie Forehand recorded a refrain based on Psalm 81:16. In this passage of scripture the poet and musician King David advised his people that […]

The Negro Ensemble Company

About the Company

Prior to the 1960s, there were virtually no outlets for the wealth of black theatrical talent in America. Playwrights writing realistically about the black experience could not get their work produced, and even the most successful performers, such as Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen, were confined to playing roles as servants. It was disenfranchised artists […]