Black History Month remains big

Black History Month starts today, bringing a fresh cascade of shows. Here's the story and list I sent to papers:



Each February, two strong forces –
PBS and cable – propel Black History Month.

This year's shows range from the upbeat
and uptempo – a Cab Calloway profile (Feb. 27), a vibrant
production of the Tony-winning musical “Memphis” (Feb. 24) – to
the dead-serious.

One upcoming PBS special (Feb. 13)
views methods that virtually revived the slavery early in the 20th
century. “I learned about all of the cruelty and the abuse that was
handed out by my family,” said Susan Tuggle Burnore, whose
great-grandfather was convicted of killing 11 blacks. “It was

Another (Feb. 9) is a “Black Power
Mixtape” from an angry era. Angela Davis – in prison, charged
with aiding a 1970 murder – is shown passionately disputing that
black-power people are violent.

Davis was acquitted and is 68, a
retired University of California, Santa Clara professor. “Those of
us who were active … were often represented as advocates of
violence,” she said. She argues now that “the state had the
monopoly on violence …. I would love to inhabit a world without

Such hours, sprinkled with cheerier
moments, fill February – even as people argue about whether there
should be a Black History Month.

Ironically, one of PBS' specials (Feb.
16) argues against Black History Month. “It's a film about trying
to see African-American history outside of the box of February,”
said filmmaker Shukree Tilghman.

Other people share some of his doubts.
“Are we ghettoizing the films by just giving them this one month?”
asked “Independent Lens” producer Lois Vossen, who has scheduled
three black-history films (including Tilghman's) for February.

Adds Talib Kweli, a “Mixtape”
narrator: “I remember being a little kid and McDonald's co-opted
Black History Month in a major way.”

Davis reflects some Black History Month
concerns. “There's a tendency to marginalize speakers and
activities in that frame.”

Still, society too often shed history.
Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month, Davis said,
are“preserving a way to encourage a collective meditation on the
history of struggle for freedom.”

That's how Sharon La Cruise sees it.
Her film (Feb. 2) basically starts the month for PBS. “I'm glad
there is a time ... focused on the history; I'm not sure we're
focused on any history in our country.”

Her film profiles Daisy Bates, who had
a powerful impact on the civil-rights movement in Little Rock, Ark.,
then was often overlooked … until Black History Month, 2012.

Here's a sampling:

PBS. (These are the national dates, but check local listings; on WKAR in East Lansing, for instance, each "Independent Len" is delayed until 11 p.m. the following Tuesday.)

– “Independent Lens” (10 p.m.
Thursdays): “Daisy Bates” profiles a civil rights leader in 1950s
Little Rock, Feb. 2; “The Back Power Mixtape 1968-1975” uses a
Swedish news team's footage of U.S. racial issues, Feb. 9; “More
Than a Month” questions having a Black History Month, Feb.16.

– “Underground Railroad: The
William Still Story”(10 p.m. Feb.6) views the role of a free black

– “American Experience: Freedom
Riders” (8-10 p.m., Feb. 7) reruns an acclaimed documentary.

– “Slavery By Another Name”
(9-10:30 p.m. Feb.13) views Southern practices that revived slavery
by imprisoning blacks and then renting them to farmers.

– “Frontline: The Interrupters”
(9-10:30 p.m., Feb.14) views a Chicago program that has former gang
members heading off youth violence.

– “Great Performances: Memphis”
(9-11:30 p.m., Feb. 24) is the zestful, Tony-winning musical.

– “American Masters: Cab Calloway:
Sketches” (10-11 p.m. Feb. 27) profiles the singer/band leader.


Yes, the channel is a piece of black
history itself. Some key specials this month include:

– “The Express” (2008, 8 p.m.
Feb. 4) portrays Ernie Davis, the first black Heisman Trophy winner.

– “Soul Mates: Dr. Maya Angelou and
Common” (11 a.m., Feb. 12) has two poets, one using hip hop.

– “BET Honors” (9 p.m. Feb. 13)
includes special awards for Angelou, the Tuskegee airmen, Stevie
Wonder, Spike Lee, Mariah Carey and coach Beverly Kearney.

– “Ali” (2001, 8 p.m., Feb. 24)
has Will Smith playing the champ.


Documentary movies air at 8:30 p.m.

– “Brooklyn Boheme” (Feb. 2)
views the rise of an artistic community in the 1980s.

– “On the Shoulders of Giants”
(Feb. 9) profiles the Harlem Renaissance, the first all-black
professional basketball team to win a national championship.

– “Heart of Stone” (Feb. 16)
views a crusading New Jersey principal.

Smithsonian Channel

– “MLK: The Assassination Tapes”
(9 p.m. Feb. 12) was assembled from footage that University of
Memphis professors created to document the garbage-workers strike
that drew King to the city.

– Two reruns air at 9 p.m. Saturdays,
rerunning at 8 p.m. Thursdays. “Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4”
(Feb. 4) profiles the lunch-counter sit-ins; “Black Wings” (Feb.
11) has aviation pioneers.


Other shows are scattered around; a few
key ones include:

– “Men of Honor”(2000, 8 and 11
p.m. Feb.6, FX) has Cuba Gooding as the Navy's first black diver.

– “The Loving Story” (9-10:30
p.m. Feb. 14, HBO) portrays the husband and wife who were arrested in
1958, under Virginia's ban of inter-racial marriages. They eventually
won in the Supreme Court.

– Image Awards (8-10 p.m. Feb. 17,
NBC) annually assembles movie, TV and music stars and more.

– “Glory” (1989, 8-10:30 p.m.
Feb. 17), portrays the Army's first black regiment, in the Civil War.