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African American Studies: Documentaries

Databases

Searching Films on Demand

You can browse the Subjects. To do this you go up to the top left of the screen and click on the three lines next to the Films on Demand Logo

Click on link next to FOD logo and choose Subject

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Click on one of the categories under African American Studies

The tags assigned to the films are not consistent so you want to try a variety of terms. Most of the film entries have good descriptions that contain the keywords you find during your background reading

If you are looking for something specific use the search field. Use specific terms like names of individuals or groups along with general subject terms. For example you could search on specific terms such as the following:

  • Tuskegee Airmen
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • 761st Tank Division

You could also try more general searches such as: African Americans AND World War II

You will typically pull up segments of films or episodes in series. The title of the film or series will be given after the words From Title.

Example:

Introduction: African-Americans in World War II (SEGMENT)
From Title: FedFlix: African-Americans in World War II: Legacy of Patriotism and Valor
This film will show the history of African-American units in World War II.

Click on the title of the documentary to pull it up. You can then click on the titles of segments and watch them in or out of order as you choose.

Featured Documentaries

Film Lists

The following titles are documentaries that have been singled out for praise, and that are available in Films on Demand

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. 2013

Emmy Award-winning series. Consists of 6 one-hour programs.

The Black Atlantic (1500-1800)

This program explores the global experiences that created the African-American people. Beginning a century before the first documented “20-and-odd” slaves who arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, the episode portrays the earliest Africans, slave and free, who arrived on these shores. The transatlantic slave trade soon became a vast empire connecting three continents. Through stories of individuals caught in its web, the episode traces the emergence of plantation slavery in the American South and examines what the late 18th-century era of revolutions—American, French and Haitian—would mean for African Americans and slavery in America. (56 minutes)

The Age of Slavery (1800-1860)

This film illustrates how black lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the American Revolution. For free black people, these years were a time of opportunity, but for most African Americans, the era represented a new nadir. King Cotton fueled the rapid expansion of slavery into new territories and the forcible relocation of African Americans to the Deep South. Yet as slavery intensified, so did resistance. From individual acts to mass rebellions, African Americans demonstrated their determination to undermine and ultimately eradicate slavery. (56 minutes)

Into the Fire (1861-1896)

This program examines the most tumultuous and consequential period in African-American history: the Civil War and the end of slavery, and Reconstruction’s thrilling but brief “moment in the sun.” From the beginning, African Americans were agents of their liberation—by fleeing the plantations and taking up arms to serve in the United States Colored Troops. After Emancipation, African Americans sought to realize the promise of freedom—rebuilding families shattered by slavery; demanding economic, political and civil rights; even winning elected office—but a few years later, an intransigent South mounted a swift and vicious campaign of terror to restore white supremacy and roll back African-American rights. Yet the achievements of Reconstruction remained in the collective memory of the African-American community. (56 minutes)

Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940)

This program portrays the Jim Crow era, when African Americans struggled to build their own worlds within the harsh, narrow confines of segregation. At the turn of the 20th century, a steady stream of African Americans left the South, fleeing the threat of racial violence and searching for opportunities in the North and West. Leaders like Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey organized, offering different strategies to further black empowerment and equality. The ascendance of black arts and culture showed that a community with a strong identity and sense of pride was taking hold in spite of Jim Crow. The Harlem Renaissance redefined how America saw African Americans — and how African Americans saw themselves. (56 minutes)

Rise! (1940-1968)

This film examines the long road to civil rights, when the deep contradictions in American society finally became unsustainable. African Americans who fought fascism in World War II came home to face the same old racial violence.The success of black entrepreneurs and entertainers fueled African-American hopes and dreams. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, heralding the dawn of a movement of resistance, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its public face. Before long, masses of African Americans practiced this nonviolent approach to integrate public schools, lunch counters and more. In 1968, Dr. King was assassinated, unleashing a new call for “Black Power” across the country. (56 minutes)

A More Perfect Union (1968-2013) 

After 1968, African Americans set out to build a bright future on the foundation of the civil rights movement’s victories, but a growing class disparity threatened to split the black community. As African Americans won political office across the country and the black middle class made progress, larger economic and political forces isolated the black urban poor. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many hoped that America had finally transcended racism. By the time of his second victory, however, it was clear that many issues, including true racial equality, remain to be resolved. (56 minutes) Distributed by PBS Distribution.

Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement 1954–1985

Winner of six Emmy Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award, an International Documentary Award, and a Television Critics Association Award

Awakenings 1954–1956

Individual acts of courage inspire black Southerners to fight for their rights: Mose Wright testifies against the white men who murdered young Emmett Till, and Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama.

Fighting Back 1957–1962

States’ rights loyalists and federal authorities collide in the 1957 battle to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School, and again in James Meredith’s 1962 challenge to segregation at the University of Mississippi. Both times, a Southern governor squares off with a U.S. president, violence erupts—and integration is carried out.

Ain’t Scared of Your Jails 1960–1961

Black college students take a leadership role in the civil rights movement as lunch counter sit-ins spread across the South. “Freedom Riders” also try to desegregate interstate buses, but they are brutally attacked as they travel.

No Easy Walk 1961–1963

The civil rights movement discovers the power of mass demonstrations as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerges as its most visible leader. Some demonstrations succeed; others fail. But the triumphant March on Washington, D.C., under King’s leadership, shows a mounting national support for civil rights.

Mississippi—Is This America? 1963–1964

Mississippi’s grass-roots civil rights movement becomes an American concern when college students travel south to help register black voters and three activists are murdered. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenges the regular Mississippi delegation at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.

Bridge to Freedom 1965

A decade of lessons is applied in the climactic and bloody march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A major victory is won when the federal Voting Rights Bill passes, but civil rights leaders know they have new challenges ahead.

The Time Has Come 1964–1966

After a decade-long cry for justice, a new sound is heard in the civil rights movement: the insistent call for power. Malcolm X takes an eloquent nationalism to urban streets as a younger generation of black leaders listens. In the South, Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) move from “Freedom Now!” to “Black Power!” as the fabric of the traditional movement changes

Two Societies 1965–1968

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) come north to help Chicago’s civil rights leaders in their nonviolent struggle against segregated housing. Their efforts pit them against Chicago’s powerful mayor, Richard Daley. When a series of marches through all-white neighborhoods draws violence, King and Daley negotiate with mixed results. In Detroit, a police raid in a black neighborhood sparks an urban uprising that lasts five days, leaving 43 people dead. The Kerner Commission finds that America is becoming “two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” President Lyndon Johnson, who appointed the commission, ignores the report.

Power! 1967–1968

The call for Black Power takes various forms across communities in black America. In Cleveland, Carl Stokes wins election as the first black mayor of a major American city. The Black Panther Party, armed with law books, breakfast programs, and guns, is born in Oakland. Substandard teaching practices prompt parents to gain educational control of a Brooklyn school district but then lead them to a showdown with New York City’s teachers’ union.

The Promised Land 1967–1968

Martin Luther King stakes out new ground for himself and the rapidly fragmenting civil rights movement. One year before his death, he publicly opposes the war in Vietnam. His Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) embarks on an ambitious Poor People’s Campaign. In the midst of political organizing, King detours to support striking sanitation workers in Memphis, where he is assassinated. King’s death and the failure of his final campaign mark the end of a major stream of the movement.

Ain’t Gonna Shuffle No More 1964–1972

A call to pride and a renewed push for unity galvanize black America. World heavyweight champion Cassius Clay challenges America to accept him as Muhammad Ali, a minister of Islam who refuses to fight in Vietnam. Students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., fight to bring the growing black consciousness movement and their African heritage inside the walls of this prominent black institution. Black elected officials and community activists organize the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, in an attempt to create a unified black response to growing repression against the movement

A Nation of Law? 1968–1971

Black activism is increasingly met with a sometimes violent and unethical response from local and federal law enforcement agencies. In Chicago, two Black Panther Party leaders are killed in a pre-dawn raid by police acting on information supplied by an FBI informant. In the wake of President Nixon’s call to “law and order,” stepped-up arrests push the already poor conditions at New York’s Attica State Prison to the limit. A five-day inmate takeover calling the public’s attention to the conditions leaves 43 men dead: four killed by inmates, 39 by police.

The Keys to the Kingdom 1974–1980

In the 1970s, antidiscrimination legal rights gained in past decades by the civil rights movement are put to the test. In Boston, some whites violently resist a federal court school desegregation order. Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, proves that affirmative action can work, but the Bakke Supreme Court case challenges that policy. This film contains offensive language

Back to the Movement 1979–Mid 1980s

Power and powerlessness. Miami’s black community—pummeled by urban renewal, a lack of jobs, and police harassment— explodes in rioting. But in Chicago, an unprecedented grassroots movement triumphs. Frustrated by decades of unfulfilled promises made by the city’s Democratic political machine, reformers install Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor.

Slavery and the Making of America

4 part series that covers slavery in the United States between 1619 and Reconstruction.2004. PBS.

Slavery by Another Name

A PBS documentary called ""Slavery by Another Name"" tells the story of the forced labor practices that helped extend slavery long after the Civil War. PBS NewsHour correspondent Gwen Ifill speaks with Douglas Blackmon, the film's co-executive producer, about this largely forgotten piece of history. Original broadcast date: February 13, 2012

Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

Renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents the definitive history of the transformative years following the American Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuild itself amidst profound loss, massive destruction and revolutionary social change. Initially, African Americans enjoyed what W. E. B. Du Bois called a "brief moment in the sun", when they could build businesses, become educated, exercise their right to vote, and run for public office. The Constitution was even amended to grant them citizenship, and protect their freedoms. But many former Confederates were staunchly resistant to this new social order, and they unleashed a backlash in the form of rampant violence and a state-by-state rollback of voting rights. This series tells the real story of Reconstruction, one of America's most overlooked, misunderstood, and misrepresented periods of history. It honors the struggle of the African Americans who fought their way out of slavery and challenged the nation to live up to the founding ideals of democracy, freedom, and equality.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - [Selected Documentaries]

Selections include the following: 

  • King in the Wilderness (2018, HBO
  • A Bus For Martin Luther King (2016, Balanga)
  • Civil Rights Historians Discuss Martin Luther King Jr.(2005, NewsHour Productions)
  • Moyers & Company: MLK's Dream of Economic Justice (2013 Doctoroff Media Group)

Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

On July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland, a vibrant 28-year-old African American from Chicago, was arrested for a traffic violation in a small Texas town. After three days in custody, she was found hanging from a noose in her cell. Bland’s death was quickly ruled a suicide, sparking allegations of a murder and cover-up, and turning her case and name into a rallying cry nationwide. From the Oscar®-nominated, Emmy®- and Peabody Award-winning team of directors/producers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland examines this story in depth, revealing previously unknown details. The film follows the Bland family and legal team from the first weeks after her death as they try to find out what really happened in that jail cell in Texas. Embedded with the family and their lawyers, the filmmakers tracked the story for two years, drawing on key documents, jail footage and interviews with those closest to the events. An HBO Production.