It’s obvious when speaking with Richard Newman that he is inspired by famed scholar, literary critic and television personality Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is known for making history come alive for all generations of learners, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Newman, professor of history in Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Liberal Arts, is one of several scholars from around the country to appear in the second episode of the six-hour PBS documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, hosted by Gates, airing 8–9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29. In the episode, Newman, an expert in African-American history and the early American republic, focuses on the life of Bishop Richard Allen, an icon of black history and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent black denomination in the United States.
In December, Newman traveled to Philadelphia, meeting with Gates and a film crew at Mother Bethel Church to walk viewers through Allen’s time in slavery, his struggle for freedom and his life as a minister, educator and political activist.
“Henry Louis Gates is a legendary figure and it was a career highlight to be a part of his new series,” Newman says. “It was amazing to be part of this ‘Hollywood-like’ production, but more importantly, this documentary will captivate viewers by portraying nearly 500 years of African-American history in ways never been done before. Everybody watching will learn something they didn’t know before.”
Newman adds that the series will encourage younger viewers in particular to get involved in the story by following Gates on Twitter and “live tweeting” during each hour-long broadcast.
Newman hopes the Rochester community will also pay close attention to the series and recognize the impact the city has had on African-American history. “Rochester plays an instrumental role in African-American history; we are celebrated as the home and burial place of Frederick Douglass and a prominent location on the Underground Railroad and Freedom Trail.”
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross runs Tuesdays from Oct. 22 to Nov. 26. More information about the series can be found at www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/.