There are a variety of institutions to celebrate and honor during Black History Month, and one of them is a staple of our community—the Black church. Enter the aptly titled The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, in which The Root’s co-founder Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. does what he does best—get to “the root” of the historical background of Black churches in America.
From PBS’ official press release sent to The Root:
This moving four-hour, two-part series from executive producer, host and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, traces 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 grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power. The documentary 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.
In an exclusive clip from the two-part series shared with The Root, we get a look into Black churches as a “symbol of rebellion and protest” and how that turned into “white backlash,” including but not limited to lynchings and bombings.
Unfortunately, with hateful people such as Dylann Roof (the mass murderer who killed nine people and injured one person during his shooting spree at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015), the threat of white supremacist terrorism isn’t as far removed from modern times as we’d hoped.
In the above clip, Gates sits down with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson to speak on the significance of white supremacy targeting the sacred safe spaces of Black people.
“What these white supremacists understand, what they know, without sophistication [is] that’s the height, depth and breadth of our existence,” Dyson muses. “The church is our refuge—it’s our sanctuary, literally. The very nature of the Black church is what makes it so powerful and yet so vulnerable at the same time.”
Along with Dyson, this special will feature interviews with Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, Georgia Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock, Bishop Michael Curry, Cornel West, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Rev. Al Sharpton, Yolanda Adams, Rev. William Barber II, BeBe Winans and Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie.
The first installment of The Black Church premieres tonight on PBS, Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. ET with the second part debuting the following night on Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. ET.