Here are a few television highlights to check out this month in celebration of Black History Month. All times Eastern. Programming subject to change; check back throughout the month for additions and changes.
Way Black When: Prime Time — TV One, weeknights throughout February at 10pm. This month of programming reflects back on the golden age of black culture that emerged during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Way Black When: Prime Time is a one-hour talk show that showcases black pop culture icons across the three decades. Each weeknight at 11pm there will be a decade-specific film related to the decade being covered in a specific week — Jan. 31-Feb. 4 covers the ’70s; Feb. 7-11 covers the ’80s; Feb. 14-18 the ’90s; and Feb. 21-25 is a “Best Of” week.
BET.com Presents Black in Time — BET.com, every day throughout February. Each day in February, BET.com will be posting video narratives of civil rights leaders. From Medgar Evers and the march on Washington to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, BET pays tribute to 28 moments that pushed the civil rights movement forward and redefined our nation.
Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans — PBS (check local listings in February). Arguably the oldest black neighborhood in America and the birthplace of jazz, Faubourg Tremé was home to the largest community of free black people in the Deep South during slavery and a hotbed of political ferment. Lolis Eric Elie, a New Orleans newspaperman, tours this storied neighborhood.
Independent Lens: “Banished” — PBS (check local listings in February). This is the story of three counties that forcefully banished African-American families from their towns 100 years ago — and the descendants who return to learn a shocking history.
Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings — PBS (check local listings in February). At the end of the American Revolution, slaves were offered freedom in return for service to the British. This is the story of their resettlement, first in Nova Scotia, then Sierra Leone, where dreams of a haven came to a tragic end.
Classroom: “Frederick Douglass” — BIO Channel, Feb. 1 at 7am. The life of the great abolitionist who escaped slavery in 1838 and used his talents as a writer and orator to fight for emancipation.
Biography: Russell Simmons — BIO Channel, Feb. 1 at 9am. An intimate profile of the founder of Def Jam Records, who helped to bring black, hip-hop culture into the American mainstream.
Modern Black History Heroes — BET, Feb. 1 at 6pm. BET News, in partnership with 106 & Park, presents a conversation with four African-American leaders from various walks of life who are making black history today. Each week, 106 & Park introduces one of the modern-day heroes and invites audiences to submit their own modern black history hero.
“Anything Is Possible” music video premiere — Disney Channel, Feb. 4 at 2:12pm. Disney Channel celebrates Black History Month with the premiere of the music video for “Anything Is Possible,” a rap song performed by Roshon Fegan of the series Shake It Up. Filmed on location at the historic Watts Towers Arts Center in Los Angeles, the rap spotlights iconic Africa-American leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mae Jemison and Jackie Robinson. The video will also be available at disneychannel.com and youtube.com/DisneyChannel.
Isaiah Washington’s Passport to Sierra Leone — The Africa Channel, Feb. 4 at 8pm. Actor/philanthropist Isaiah Washington travels to Sierra Leone, where he makes history as the first African-American to be granted dual citizenship based solely on DNA confirmation of his ancestry.
Still Bill — Showtime, Feb. 4 at 8:30pm. A documentary portrait of legendary American singer and songwriter Bill Withers, who wrote and performed such classic hits as “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us” before abruptly walking away from stardom a quarter century ago at the age of 45.
Shaka Zulu — Centric, Feb. 5 at noon. This sweeping 1986 miniseries captures the rise and fall of an African emperor with brilliant detail. Prophecy is mixed with recorded fact regarding Shaka’s birth, exile, innovations in warfare, assumption of the throne, building of the Zulu Empire, first contact with Europe and the events that led to his downfall.
Big Men, Big Hearts: Basketball in Africa — The Africa Channel, Feb. 6 at 8pm. In this one-hour special, The Africa Channel travels with NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo, WNBA and NBA players and coaches for the 8th Annual Basketball Without Borders camp. The special includes profiles of African players Hasheem Thabeet from Tanzania (Memphis Grizzlies), DeSasnga Diop from Senegal (Charlotte Bobcats); and Luc Mbah A Moute from Cameroon (Milwaukee Bucks).
AfriCOBRA: For the People — TV Land, Feb. 7 at 8:30pm. TV Land pays tribute to the art and artists of AfriCOBRA, a group of Chicago-based artists who create images that affirm and uplift the Black community. The inspiring special is comprised of contemporary interviews with the AfriCOBRA artists, enhanced displays of their artwork and an engaging and animated history of the group, which continues to create innovative artwork today.
Independent Lens: “When I Rise” — PBS, Feb. 8 at 10pm (or check local listings). The story of Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted music student who found herself at the epicenter of racial controversy but struggled against the odds to reach the heights of international opera.
Nick News Special: “Beyond I Have a Dream” — Nickelodeon, Feb. 13 at 9pm. In the Rev, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most famous speech he talks about his dream of racial equality. But Dr. King had more than one dream — and his messages went well beyond a plea for racial equality. This special takes a look at how some of his other words are still impacting kids today
Classroom: “Crucibles of Courage” — BIO Channel, Feb. 15 at 7am. Then-Senator Barack Obama hosts this encore special that explores the stories of five famous black Americans and the way in which their lives and work impact our world today.
Conversations With Felicia: Gina Paige — The Africa Channel, Feb. 15 at 8pm. Host Dr. Felicia Mabuza-Suttle talks with African Ancestry president Gina Paige in this one-hour interview special.
Independent Lens: “Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene” — PBS, Feb. 15, 10pm (or check local listings). An encore showing of the film about America’s original shock-jock, Petey Greene, who became a leading activist during some of the most tumultuous years in recent history.
Caught By the SS: The Wereth Eleven — National Geographic Channel, Feb. 16 at 9pm. Just two days into the Battle of the Bulge, they were brutally murdered by the SS in Wereth, Belgium. Now NGC tells the dramatic and emotional story of these 11 African-American soldiers. The film combines rarely seen archival footage and photos, in-depth personal testimonies and chilling recounts, including a man’s childhood memory of how his family offered food and shelter to the Wereth Eleven the night they were killed. Interviews with an African-American veteran also shed light on racism in the U.S. military as well as Nazi treatment of African-American prisoners during World War II.
Africa First: Behind the Cameras — The Africa Channel, Feb. 18 at 8pm. This is a behind the scenes special on Focus Features’ unique Africa First Initiative, which awards $10,000 production grants annually to African writer/directors and mentors the development and production of their short films.
The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story — ESPN, Feb. 20 at 8pm. As part of ESPN’s Year of the Quarterback programming, this special tells the story of Condredge Holloway, the first black quarterback at an SEC school (University of Tennessee), who didn’t get a shot in the NFL although he went on to be an all-star player in the Canadian Football League.
Wendell Scott: A Race Story — ESPN, Feb. 20 at 9pm. This hourlong documentary tells the story of Wendell Scott, the only black driver to win a NASCAR race (at Jacksonville Speedway in 1963), and examines his positive impact on the sport.
Obama in Ghana — BET, Feb. 20 at 10pm. This documentary chronicles the first family’s historic trip to the Republic of Ghana, Africa’s first nation to gain independence from colonial rule. Viewers see the first family’s emotional visit to Ghana’s slave dungeons on the cape coast, as well as a special pageant of traditional chiefs in honor of President Obama.
BET Honors — BET, Feb. 21 at 9pm. Hosted by actress Gabrielle Union, this year’s show recognizes the accomplishments of outstanding African Americans by honoring legendary actress Cicely Tyson (Theatrical Arts), Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Jamie Foxx (Entertainer), supermodel/entrepreneur Iman (Service), publishing mogul Linda Johnson Rice (Media), world renowned musician/composer Herbie Hancock (Musical Arts) and accomplished historian/educator Lonnie G. Bunch (Education).
Classroom: “Thurgood Marshall” — BIO Channel, Feb. 22 at 7am. A look at the life of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
Thurgood — HBO, Feb. 24 at 9pm. Based on the Broadway bioplay penned by George Stevens Jr., this film documents a live performance of Laurence Fishburne (in a role that could define his mature years as an actor) virtually transforming himself into the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the Supreme Court, and telling his life’s story.
The Cosby Show: A Look Back — Centric, Feb. 26 at 8pm. This retrospective of the phenomenally popular 1984-1992 family comedy comes complete with memorable clips, bloopers and comments from series stars, producers and Bill Cosby himself.
A Night of Tribute — The Africa Channel, Feb. 27 at 8pm. Taped live at the 2011 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, this two-hour awards event honors the achievements of filmmakers, actors and activists from the U.S., Africa and the African Diaspora. African Ancestry president Gina Paige will also reveal the DNA test results of participating honorees and presenters who have traced their African lineage.
Faubourg Treme: Courtesy of Gina Charbonnet
Independent Lens: Courtesy of Alpheus Media, Inc.
Thurgood Credit: HBO