1. June 24, 2014: Stanley Nelson’s Freedom Summer marks Freedom Summer’s 50th anniversary
Half a century after the Mississippi Summer Project — and the same season hundreds of demonstrators marched in Ferguson, Missouri — Stanley Nelson’s landmark documentary aired on American Experience. The film commemorated SNCC’s voter registration efforts with a parade of powerful found footage, narrated by eyewitnesses such as Julian Bond, Dorothy Zellner and Bob Moses. Freedom Summer found its way into countless community screenings and classrooms this year — and rarely has an American history lesson been better timed or more artfully crafted.
2. October 7, 2014: Anderson Cooper finds out his plantation-owning ancestor was beaten to death by a slave. (and/or other moments from Finding Your Roots…)
Henry Louis Gates had a surprise for America’s favorite CNN anchor: Anderson Cooper’s predecessor, an Alabama plantation owner, was beaten to death with a farm hoe by one of the twelve black people he enslaved. Finding Your Roots doesn’t pull any punches with its white celebrity guests (“Do you think he deserved it?” asks Professor Gates with a smile) — and nor, during this episode, did it shy away from a story of revolt and its devastating consequences for the slave in question. A rare narrative for national television, Cooper’s segment was one of the year’s most noteworthy public media moments.
3. August 25, 2014: The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross wins an Emmy for Outstanding Historical Program
Public television swept the 2014 Emmy Awards — and, in another memorable media moment hosted by Henry Louis Gates, the black-centric documentary Many Rivers to Cross took the top prize for long-form historical program. Though ambitious in scope (the whole of African American history in six episodes), Rivers manages to remain well-paced and accessible. After airing on PBS in 2013, it has added an Image and a Peabody, as well as an Emmy, to its awards shelf.
4. September 26, 2014: Gwen Ifill moderates a televised town hall about race in America (America After Ferguson)
Among the five PBS programs nominated for NAACP Image Awards this month — including Thomas Allen Harris’s NBPC-supported Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People — was America After Ferguson, a televised town hall in St. Louis moderated by NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill. Citizens from all walks of life gathered at the University of Missouri for a group discussion, which combined a traditional public forum with live on-screen tweets (#AfterFergusonPBS). The program garnered impressive Nielsen ratings and will vie for an Image Award in two categories, Outstanding Host and Outstanding News Special.
5. April 2, 2014: 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School wins a Peabody
NBPC’s own 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School earned a Peabody Award this spring, alongside such recipients as Orange is the New Black and Breaking Bad. Executive produced by Jacquie Jones — and itself a component of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s public media initiative American Graduate — 180 Days spotlights the daily challenges facing faculty, students and administrators at Washington Metropolitan High School in D.C. You can check out highlights on our YouTube channel, or watch the full series at 180schooldays.org.