African-American history has played an integral role in the shaping of politics, economics, and culture in the United States. Growing up, how did you learn about the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans? Were you in a classroom? Reading a book? Talking with relatives or friends? How has your understanding or knowledge of African-American history changed and/or developed over time? What do you think is the most effective way to pass along this rich and growing history to future generations?

Henry Eisner

Dear Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,

Many rivers to cross. Six hours of… historical accuracy and greatness. Not historical greatness, historical terror. But in an amazing documentary. My teacher had us (in class) watch the documentary. Now, we have to write this letter based on it. This is not a summary, so don’t expect to hear a boring letter summarizing the details in the documentary you wrote.
Is many rivers a metaphor? Are the rivers like hardships, and crossing them is like getting over the hardships? Or is it literal, because the African-American culture did have to cross a lot of land and water. If I’m missing some obvious reason, tell me. But I do hope that there is not.
I have another question. When you were with the African style chef, I know that is what the food was like back then, but what about now? Are there similarities? Can you tell me what they are? Why has African food changed, if it has? How good was the food, because to me, I wanted some when I saw it. Although I wouldn’t be able to eat all that. How filling was that food? And how much better or worse was the original food compared to the African-American cook’s? I guess you wouldn’t know, because you weren’t around to taste the food in Africa at the time, but I would love to know.
It was interesting to me how “Selma” and the documentary had different perspectives on the same event. “Selma” was a great movie, but it didn’t cover many of the things the documentary covered about Selma. The documentary was much broader, covered the major events, but focused less on all the little details. “Selma,” however, was just about one event, but focused on all of the little stories within the topic, like Jimmy Lee Jackson for instance. He played an important role in “Selma,” but he wasn’t an important figure in the civil rights movement.
The Ku Klux Klan are such evil, terribly evil people. When I saw, in your documentary, the white draped
(death eater like)
people, riding on their horses with crosses around their necks, I just wanted to blow them up and reveal them, so those
(servants of lord Voldemort)
evil people could get what they deserved after killing so many others. Did they carry crosses because they thought African Americans were vampires, just ones who never sucked very much blood? How could human beings be so racist? When I (and most of the class) saw the entire town they blew up, I just wanted to
(use Avada Kedavra)
do something about it. I happen to be white, but I do live in a mostly Caribbean neighborhood, and I do not what the neighborhood to be
(blown up)
destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan.

The NAACP, were they like the warriors who had to stop the Ku Klux Klan? The NAACP is still active, and so is the Ku Klux Klan, right? Now, the Ku Klux Klan is mostly southerners. The mayors who raise the confederate flag today, are they part of the Ku Klux Klan? Is it legal to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan? If it is, there is something terribly wrong with this country’s “freedom.”
If everything in “many rivers” is accurate, then northerners lie a lot. They say that there was a racist South, and a perfect, non-racist, completely abolitionist North. Have you ever seen the movie, “The Story of Ruby Bridges”? In this movie the teacher from Boston says at one point, “there was never slavery in the North, only in the South.” How stupid (major publishing company-like) it is to put false information like that in an educational film.
Some of the hardships the movie showed were very upsetting to watch, for example the woman who tried to escape slavery and had to kill her children. It must be really hard to kill your children. And the burden of having killed your child. The years to think about how you could have been with your child. And how hard-hearted could those Southeners be? Did they not see what kind of pain these people were in? How much suffering did it take to make them see these people as human. We betray native Americans, kill most of them, force them into poverty, and then enslave as well a lot of people based on only one factor: their skin color. I want to do something to the brains of those racists to make them think like reasonable people. I’m talking about the George Zimmerman types.
Why are so many people of color incarcerated? Is it completely random, or do racists come up with some stupid reason for incarcerating people? And people aren’t fighting the problem of incarceration as much as you would think they would, from what they say about how much they hate racism so much. Maybe if they had seen your documentary they would care more and be doing about more it.
No, I don’t think having an African-American president will rid America of racism. Especially if he is a Democrat. If he is a Democrat, Republicans will be lining up in protest to no longer let African-Americans vote or be in politics at all. Also, if this president isn’t good, people maybe automatically think “Oh, this president isn’t good because he is black,” or “Oh, turns out you just can’t let a black person have that much power,” and return to racism.
The war on crack was just one excuse for Ronald Reagan to be racist. To arrest African Americans. And Katrina showed that Bush did not care about black people. But hopefully, now that we have a Democratic president, an African-American president, we can heal the damage racism has done to an entire culture.
Henry Eisner