The show's sub-title comes from the famous Jimmy Cliff song. The program examines 500 years of African-American history, from 1513 to 2012.
"We start with the arrival of the very first African to come to North America, and it's a person whose name we know," Gates said. "And the biggest surprise of all about his story is that he wasn't even a slave. And this is counterintuitive. He was a free black man. His name was Juan Garrido, and he was the first black conquistador. Now, this guy is amazing. He was born in 1480 in West Africa. He traveled as a freeman to Portugal and Spain, and then he accompanied Ponce de León ‑‑ remember him? We all studied about him in elementary school because he was in search for the fountain of youth. Well, guess what? He had a brother with him who was looking to stay young forever, just like the white man from Spain.
"So this is news. In fact, in episode 1 and throughout the six hours of the series, we situate the African‑American story within the larger story first of American history, but also of black Atlantic history as well, showing connections between what happened in our country with what happened in Haiti, in Cuba, in Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Then we tell the story of the Africans who came as slaves after Juan Garrido."
Here's a PBS description of the show:
“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” – a new six-part, six-hour series -- takes viewers on an unprecedented journey through African-American history—from slavery to freedom, and from the plantation to the White House on Tuesdays, starting at 8 p.m. on PBS.
Presented and written by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and drawing on some of America's top historians and heretofore untapped primary sources, the series guides viewers on a journey across 500 years and two continents to shed new light on the experience of being an African American. Among those interviewed are Kathleen Cleaver, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Congressman John Lewis, civil rights activist Diane Nash and more.
The series is broken into the following six chronological segments that cover the 1500s to the present day: Part One ( ) explores the global experiences that created the African-American people from 1500 to 1800; Part Two ( ) shares a look at how black lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the American Revolution from 1800 to 1860; Part Three ( )surveys a tumultuous period in African-American history beginning with the Civil War, through slavery’s end and Reconstruction from 1861 to 1896; Part Four ( ) examines the Jim Crow era from 1897-1940, when African Americans struggled within the confines of segregation; Part Five ( ) explores the long road to civil rights from 1940 to 1968, when the contradictions in American society became untenable; and Part Six ( ) examines the class disparity in the black community with Barack Obama's presidential wins.