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Episode 1

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the roots of African American religion beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the extraordinary ways enslaved Africans preserved and adapted their faith practices from the brutality of slavery to emancipation.

Episode 2

Discover how the Black church expanded its reach to address social inequality and minister to those in need, from the Jim Crow South to the heroic phase of the civil rights movement and the Black church’s role in the present.

Extended Trailer

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song will explore the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America, the changing nature of worship spaces, and the men and women who shepherded them from the pulpit, the choir loft, and church pews.


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.

Inside Look

Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses the origins of Black church and its continued influence as the spiritual, cultural, and political epicenter of the African American community.

Gospel Trailer

Hear from iconic musicians such as John Legend, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams on the powerful role of gospel music within the Black church.

Fisk Minstrel Show

The spiritual arrangements of the 1870s, like the ones performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, were quite different from the simple folk songs that had a single melody.

First Black Run Institutions

The First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, was founded in 1773 and is one of the first Black run institutions on record in the United States.

Rutha Mae Harris’ Music Impact on the Civil Right Movement

Gospel music was at the heart of the Civil Rights movement, lifting the spirits of those fighting for racial equality.

The History Of Black Religion in America

Off the coast of Georgia, you can find some of the deepest traces of Christianity, as well as Islam. Over time, the traditions of the separate religions slowly merged, fusing the two different worlds.

The Rebuilding of the Emanuel A.M.E Church

More than 40 years after Charleston’s staple Black church was destroyed, Reverend Cain started rebuilding the significant place of worship, which became the flagship of the A.M.E denomination.

HBCUs Did the Work of God Through Education

Founded to be seminaries, divinity schools, and training grounds for ministers and teachers, HBCUs understood themselves to be doing the work of God.

Al Sharpton Speaks on the Importance of the Black Church

In the first decade after the Civil War, thousands of Black Churches were built across the South to uplift a community that had been degraded in bondage.

The Black Church Resists the Changing Culture

In the 1920s, women’s place in society was beginning to change. The Church struggled to accept the transforming culture – something the institution still battles with today.

The Popularity of Religious Race Records

In the early days of the phonograph, jazz and blues recordings created by Black artists were marketed as Race Records. The most popular amongst the African American community were religious sermons.

The Man with the Million Dollar Voice

In 1954, Reverend Franklin recorded his popular sermon “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” in New Bethel Baptist Church, becoming one of the first church leaders to take advantage of the medium.

The Black Vote Decides U.S. Presidential Elections

Between 1920 and 1960, African Americans had built immense political power allowing them to demand a higher level of accountability from the federal government.

Thurman’s Non-Violent Approach Inspired MLK’s Movement

In 1949, Thurman published “Jesus and the Disinherited,” promoting the discipline of non-violence. Inspired by his ideas, Martin Luther King Jr. urges his followers to follow his word.

Current Political Movements and the Traditions of the Church

As Black political activism evolves through time, new school activists abandon the institution, but not God.

Entertainment’s Place in the Church

In the late 1960s, Pentecostal choirs emerged to bring youthful energy back to the Church. The Edwin Hawkins Singers were one of the groups that rose to stardom with their single “Oh, Happy Day.”

Gospel in a Word: John Legend

“Glory, glory, hallelujah!” John Legend takes a turn playing Gospel in a Word.

Gospel in a Word: Tasha Cobbs Leonard

“My very first words were in church!” Tasha Cobbs reminisces on her favorite moments growing up in the church while playing Gospel in a Word.

Gospel in a Word: Fred Hammond

Fred Hammond shares his favorite quotes and phrases from the Black Church while playing along in Gospel in a Word.

Gospel in a Word: Erica Campbell

Sing-along with Erica Campbell as she plays Gospel in a Word using words and phrases inspired by the docuseries The Black Church.

Jesse Jackson and a New Generation of Black Leaders

Jesse Jackson challenged Ronald Reagan in his political campaign, embracing the role of a preacher politician. Although his campaign didn’t succeed, Jackson paved the way for a new generation of leaders in the Church and outside of it.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reflects on the Black Church

The Black Church is the place where the African American community made their way in society and one they can always call home.

John Legend Credits the Church for His Music Career

Growing up steeped in the church, John Legend attributes his faith-oriented upbringing to his successful music career.

John Legend Sings “So Good to Me”

John Legend showcases his musical talent and deep church roots while singing “So Good To Me.”

Jennifer Hudson On the Power of Church

Jennifer Hudson’s first memory of church was on Easter Sunday, where videos of Jesus’ crucifixion brought her to tears. This experience was the moment she finally understood the power of the Church.

The Church as a Place of Refuge

As Black Churches became prominent throughout the country, white supremacists began targeting these sacred places of refuge for the Black community.

Prathia Hall’s Inspires MLK’s “I Have A Dream”

Martin Luther King Jr. met Prathia Hall in a mass meeting where she discussed her vision for the world by repeating the phrase “I have a dream.” Dr. King adapted her prayer to one of the famous speeches in American history.

The Black Church Bridges the Divide Through Music

In 1997, Kirk Franklin introduced gospel music to the Billboard charts with his song “Stomp.” However, some traditional church leaders accused him of bringing “devil music” into the Church.

A Church That Is Welcoming to All

The Black Church emerged out of struggle but yet has a history of oppressing its members. For the institution to survive, it must be a place that is welcoming to all.

The Rebuilding of the Emanuel A.M.E Church

More than 40 years after Charleston’s staple Black church was destroyed, Reverend Cain started rebuilding the significant place of worship, which became the flagship of the A.M.E denomination.