Freedom work involving Black people in America, particularly when married to education as a liberation tool, necessitates studying historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

With this understanding, filmmaker Stanley Nelson created a first-of-its-kind documentary, Tell Them We Are Rising. The documentary is touted on the official website as an exploration of “the pivotal role” historically Black colleges and universities played during the past 150 years in American culture, history and identity formation. Viewers should expect a trying and triumphant journey into the Black American experience during 90 minutes when it airs Monday, February 19, 2018 on PBS’s Independent Lens series.

The trailer includes notable Black academics like Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the pre-eminent critical race theorist, and anthropologist Johnnetta B. Cole. Cole directs the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and was Spelman College’s first female president.

HBCUs were formed in response to racist subjugation of Black folks, which included the mass kidnapping and enslavement of African people from their native lands. These same systems prohibited literate slave-owners from teaching enslaved African people so-called book smarts. During slavery, Professor Crenshaw noted, slave-masters “could do virtually anything but teach a slave how to read or write.”

The very existence and continuation of spaces where diverse Black folks expected the best and brought out the best in each other fostered high expectations in these communities. Stakeholders wanted HBCUs “to be as a free as possible, from paternalism, from racism–whether subtle or blatant,” Cole said.

Nelson also directed The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Tell Them is funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Lumina Foundation.

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