Support Provided By:

About The Film

For many, it’s their house of worship. For some, it is an engine for social justice. For others, it’s a place of transcendent cultural gifts exported to the world, from the soulful voices of preachers and congregants to the sublime sounds of gospel music. For the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., going to church in America also was “the most segregated hour” of the week. 

In this intimate four-hour series from executive producer, host, and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., we trace how this came to be in the 400 year-old story of the Black church in America, all the way down to its bedrock role as the site of African American survival and endurance, grace and resilience, thriving and testifying, freedom and independence, solidarity and speaking truth to power. It reveals how Black people have worshipped, and through their spiritual journeys, improvised ways to bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World, while translating them into a form of Christianity that was not only truly their own but a redemptive force for a nation whose original sin was found in their ancestors’ enslavement across the Middle Passage. 

Host, Henry Louis Gates Jr. standing in front of stained glass
Host, Henry Louis Gates Jr. standing in front of stained glass at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Throughout each hour, we will be transported by the songs that speak to one’s soul, by preaching styles that have moved congregations and a nation, and by beliefs and actions that drew African Americans from the violent margins of society to the front lines of change. 

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song will explore the changing nature of worship spaces and the men and women who shepherded them from the pulpit, the choir loft, and church pews. Here, the churches Gates visits are both a world within a world, where Black Americans could be themselves, and the epicenter of the freedom struggle that revolutionized the United States across slavery and abolition, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the Great Migration and civil rights movement. Throughout the series, we will see much of this world expand to politics, culture, and education, as churches are born, denominations are fractured, and leaders are made and critiqued in their quest to bring the Word to the world and the world to a higher ground. At once a liberating and conservative center of power, the church in Gates’s telling is at a crossroads today, torn between social issues and justice, human rights and inequality, secular and spiritual trends, the past and future, prompting many to wonder whether the churches of our parents and grandparents have become closed off to the most important issues of our time. The Black  church has taken us from the valley to “the mountaintop”, and as some of the most influential Black voices of our time reflect on the meaning of the church in their lives and the country’s, the series will contemplate where the “promised land” is for this generation and the next.