PBS slavery documentary

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. examines slavery's success and shame

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Slavery in the United States was once a roaring success whose wounds still afflict the country today.

So says Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who examines both its success and shame in The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, his new PBS documentary series that traces 500 years of black history.

“Slavery is a perfect example of why we need limits on the more unfortunate aspects of human nature,” he says. “Slavery was capitalism gone berserk.”

The horrifically profitable practice of slavery and the brutal inhumanity of Jim Crow loom large in The African Americans (premiering Tuesday at 8 p.m. on WGTE-TV, Channel 30), which, through its six hours, reaches far beyond American shores, venturing through the Caribbean region and all the way to Africa, while deftly folding this sprawl of black history into the larger American story.

Gates, an author, Harvard scholar, and social critic, said “The series is designed to inspire black people about the nobility of our tradition in this country, and to inspire ALL people about the nobility of that struggle.”