Celebrate Black History Month with WTTW's Programming

Daniel Hautzinger
Carl Rowan (center right) with Vice President Lyndon Johnson, 1963. Photo: The Finnish Heritage Agency
Carl Rowan, one of three subjects of 'American Experience — The American Diplomat,' with Vice President Lyndon Johnson, 1963. Photo: The Finnish Heritage Agency

Chicago has a rich and ongoing set of Black history and stories, and Black History Month in February is always a good excuse to further explore them and other stories from around the country.

Don't miss our programming for Black History Month, featuring stories not just from Chicago but from across the country. Don't miss such new programs as an Independent Lens documentary about the historical causes of disparate rates of home ownership on a national scale, or a profile of the noble, groundbreaking contralto Marian Anderson, who also served as an international ambassador, alongside an American Experience about three Black diplomats.

Plus, you can further explore Black Chicago, its history, its stories, and its culture, with WTTW's DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis


Muhammad Ali

Fridays at 9:00 pm beginning January 28 on WTTW and Saturday, February 5 at 11:00 am on WTTW Prime

A portrait by Ken Burns of one of the best-known and most indelible figures of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who insisted on being himself unconditionally and became a global icon and inspiration to people everywhere. 

Learn about Ali's significant time in Chicago and his memory here, view archival photos of him in the city, and stream the documentary at wttw.com/ali.

Great Performances — Unforgettable, with Love: Natalie Cole Sings the Songs of Nat King Cole

Tuesday, February 1 at 10:30 am on WTTW Prime

Celebrate the 30th anniversary of Natalie Cole's landmark concert. Recorded in 1992, this performance from Pasadena, CA is a loving tribute to the music of her father.

WTTW Passport members can stream the concert any time.

In Their Own Words: Chuck Berry

Tuesday, February 1 at 9:00 pm on WTTW

Take a riveting ride on the Chuck Berry train, exploring the life of the man behind the music. By blending 'hillbilly' music with R&B and writing impactful lyrics, Berry birthed a renaissance in popular music we now call rock and roll.

WTTW Passport members can stream the documentary any time. 

Chicago at the Crossroad

Thursday, February 3 at 8:00 pm on WTTW

This documentary reveals how the elimination of public housing led to instability on Chicago's South and West sides, and explores potential solutions for residents. Speaking directly with gang members, community activists, gunshot victims, and community leaders, the film opens a rare historical window into the systematic creation of neighborhoods plagued by violent crime.

Stream the documentary any time, and check out an interview with the writer, director, and producer.

We Witness

Thursday, February 3 at 9:00 pm on WTTW

This film focuses on disparities in life opportunities and resources among Chicago neighborhoods, following community reaction to a mural that presents data comparing the disinvested Garfield Park neighborhood with more affluent areas. Interviews with residents, business owners, civic and faith leaders, and experts provide commentary and historical context.

Stream the documentary any time.

Against All Odds: The Fight for the Black Middle Class

Thursday, February 3 at 10:00 pm on WTTW

New York Times Journalist Bob Herbert narrates this documentary about the extraordinary difficulty African-Americans have faced in their efforts to establish and maintain a middle-class standard of living.

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

Friday, February 4 at 10:00 am on WTTW Prime

Follow the six-decade journey of the extraordinary performer as her sublime voice transforms the tragedies and troubles of her life into joy. Interviews include Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Smokey Robinson, and Fitzgerald's son, Ray Brown, Jr.

Chavis Chronicles

Saturdays at 5:30 am on WTTW Prime

A thought-provoking half-hour weekly talk show hosted by award-winning journalist and civil rights icon Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis featuring interviews with famous leaders and politicians, doctors and scientists, cultural leaders and influencers from around the globe. 

Chicago Tonight: Black Voices

Saturdays at 6:30 pm on WTTW and Sundays at 6:00 pm on on WTTW Prime

An addition to the WTTW flagship news series Chicago Tonight, Black Voices presents trusted analysis and in-depth conversation about issues that matter to the Black community in Chicago hosted by Chicago Tonight co-anchor Brandis Friedman. With news and features on a wide range of topics including arts and life, entrepreneurship and innovation, and equity and justice.

You can find all WTTW News stories, including those from Black Voices, at wttw.com/news.

Hollywood's Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story

Sunday, February 6 at 11:30 am on WTTW

Nicknamed 'Architect to the Stars,' African American architect Paul R. Williams had a life story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter. From the early 1920s until his retirement 50 years later, Williams was one of the most successful architects in the country, but at the height of his career, Williams wasn't always welcome in the restaurants and hotels he designed or the neighborhoods where he built homes because of his race.

Finding Fellowship

Sunday, February 6 at 12:30 pm on WTTW and Saturday, February 12 at 3:00 pm on WTTW Prime

This film shares how one community came together in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and offers an example of how communities can lean on their shared heritage to progress.

Mandela in Chicago

Sunday, February 6 at 1:30 pm on WTTW and Saturday, February 12 at 4:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Before the Black Lives Matter Movement, there was the Free South Africa Movement. Chicago activists played a major role in putting pressure on the South African, Illinois and Chicago governments to end their support of apartheid. Ironically, in one of the most segregated cities in the nation, Chicagoans of all races joined forces during the 1980s to resist a racist system that oppressed South African blacks similar to the ways in which U.S. blacks had been treated.

Stream the documentary any time, and hear from the filmmaker.

400 Years: Taking the Knee

Sunday, February 6 at 2:30 pm on WTTW

BBC radio presenter Dotun Adebayo narrates the many stories of black resistance to oppression.

Independent Lens — Owned: A Tale of Two Americas

Monday, February 7 at 10:00 pm on WTTW and Tuesday, February 8 at 7:30 am on WTTW Prime


Owned: A Tale of Two Americas weaves together the history of mid-century housing policy in America and the ramifications of the 2008 housing market collapse. 

American Masters — Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands

Tuesday, February 8 at 9:00 pm on WTTW and Saturday, February 12 at 12:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Discover an international singer who captivated royalty in Europe and defied the conscience of 1939 America. Watch rare archival footage and hear audio recordings exploring her life and career from the Metropolitan Opera to the State Department.

Hear from the director of the documentary in our interview

American Masters — How It Feels to Be Free

Thursday, February 10 at 8:00 pm on WTTW and Saturday, Feburary 12 at 10:00 am on WTTW Prime

Explore the lives and trailblazing careers of iconic African American entertainers Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, and Pam Grier, who changed American culture through their films, fashion, music, and politics.

The documentary will be available to stream beginning February 1.

Sweet Home Chicago Blues: Celebrating 50 Years of Alligator Records

Thursday, February 10 at 10:00 pm on WTTW

This once-in-a-lifetime concert celebrates 50 years of Alligator Records. Featuring performances from four of the label's most popular artists: Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues, Grammy-nominated vocalist Shemekia Copeland, slide guitarist Lil' Ed Williams, and guitarist and songwriter Toronzo Cannon.

Stream the concert any time, and learn about the history of the Chicago-based label.

Pritzker Military Presents — Dr. Krewasky Salter: The African American Experience in World War II

Saturday, February 12 at 9:00 am on WTTW Prime

Dr. Krewasky Salter discusses the African American experience during World War II.

American Experience — Freedom Riders

Sunday, Feburary 13 at 7:00 pm on WTTW Prime

In 1961, an integrated band of college students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university, decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South. They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face-to-face with the challenge of correcting civil-rights inequities that plagued the nation.

Stream the documentary any time.

American Experience — Freedom Summer

Sunday, February 13 at 9:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Revisit the hot and deadly summer of 1964, when student volunteers and local Black citizens faced racial violence in Mississippi while registering voters in an attempt to break the hold of segregation.

American Experience — The American Diplomat

Tuesday, February 15 at 9:00 pm on WTTW and Wednesday, February 16 at 4:00 pm on WTTW Prime


Discover the story of three Black diplomats who broke racial barriers at the US State Department during the Cold War.

Frontline: American Reckoning

Tuesday, February 15 at 10:00 pm on WTTW

An unsolved 1960s murder reveals an untold story of the civil rights movement and Black resistance. The film draws on rarely seen footage filmed more than 50 years ago in Natchez, MS, and follows one family's search for justice.

Hear more about the investigation of old civil rights murders and a podcast that accompanies the documentary.

Ida B. Wells: A Chicago Stories Special

Thursday, February 17 at 8:00 pm on WTTW

There are few Chicago historical figures whose life and work speak to the current moment more than Ida B. Wells, the 19th century investigative journalist, civil rights leader, and passionate suffragist. 

You can explore her life further and stream the documentary and web exclusives at wttw.com/wells. 

Slavery By Another Name

Thursday, February 17 at 9:30 pm and Monday, February 28 at 8:00 pm on WTTW; Thursday, February 3 at 8:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Discover the little-known story of the labor practices and laws that effectively created a new form of slavery in the South that persisted into the 20th century in a documentary narrated by Laurence Fishburne.

American Experience — The Murder of Emmett Till

Saturday, February 19 at 12:00 pm on WTTW Prime

In 1955, a Black boy was lynched in Mississippi after being accused of offending a white woman. 

You can stream the documentary any time and find more stories about Till—a Chicagoan—and his legacy.

The Voodoo of Hell's Half Acre: A Blues Poetry Opera

Saturday, February 19 at 11:00 pm on WTTW Prime

This opera honors the art and legacy of world-renowned author, essayist, and poet Richard Wright, a Chicagoan. He was among millions of African Americans who trekked northward during the historic first Great Migration out of southern U.S. cities. The opera's main title is derived from a short story Wright published at age 15.

Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Sunday, February 20 at 10:00 am on WTTW and Saturday, February 12 at 2:00 pm on WTTW Prime

A look at how the first fully integrated college football team in America changed the game forever.

Beyond the Baton: A Conductor's Journey

Sunday, February 20 at 11:00 am on WTTW and Saturday, February 26 at 2:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Born to a single mother on welfare, Thomas Wilkins grew up to become one of the few African American conductors leading a major orchestra, the celebrated Omaha Symphony.

Fat Boy: The Billy Stewart Show

Sunday, February 20 at 12:00 pm on WTTW

The life and career of one of the most popular rhythm and blues singers of the 1960s are chronicled.

Walk Together Children: The 150th Anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Sunday, February 20 at 1:00 pm on WTTW

Dr. Paul T. Kwami and the current singers explore the stories of the world-renowned ensemble's original nine members and reflect on their roles as students and preservers of the group’s legacy. Directed by Jon Royal in collaboration with Dr. Kwami, the performance film is produced by Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

You can stream the documentary any time.

Boss: The Black Experience in Business

Sunday, February 20 at 2:00 pm on WTTW and Sunday, February 20 at 7:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Learn about the untold story of African American entrepreneurship, where skill, industriousness, ingenuity, and sheer courage in the face of overwhelming odds provide the backbone of this nation's economic and social growth. 

Meet three Black Chicago entrepreneurs in digital shorts. WTTW Passport members can stream the documentary. 

American Masters — Buddy Guy

Sunday, February 20 at 9:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Dive into the career of the legendary blues guitarist, a pioneer of Chicago’s West Side sound and major influence on rock titans like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.

Hear from some of the filmmakers about the documentary. You can stream the documentary beginning February 1.

Independent Lens — Mr. Soul!

Sunday, February 20 at 10:30 pm on WTTW Prime

Celebrate Soul!, the public television variety show that shared Black culture with the nation. Ellis Haizlip developed Soul! in 1968 as one of the first platforms to promote the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. Its impact continues to this day.

Fannie Lou Hamer's America: An America ReFramed Special

Tuesday, February 22 at 9:00 pm on WTTW and Saturday, February 26 at 10:00 am on WTTW Prime


Explore and celebrate the life of a fearless Mississippi sharecropper-turned-human-rights-activist and the injustices in America that made her work essential.

John Lewis: Get in the Way

Tuesday, February 22 at 10:00 pm on WTTW and Sunday, February 13 at 11:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Follow the journey of the late civil rights hero, congressman, and human rights champion John Lewis. At the Selma March, Lewis came face-to-face with club-wielding troopers and exemplified non-violence.

Driving While Black

Thursday, February 24 at 8:00 pm on WTTW and Friday, February 25 at 7:00 am and 3:00 pm on WTTW Prime

Discover how the advent of the automobile brought new freedoms and new perils for African Americans on the road in this deep look into the dynamics of race, space and mobility in America over time.

You can stream the documentary any time. 

Just a Mortal Man: Jerry Lawson

Saturday, February 26 at 12:30 pm on WTTW Prime

A documentary about the founder and original lead singer of the legendary a cappella group The Persuasions.

Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

Sunday, February 27 at 9:00 am and 11:30 am on WTTW

Join Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for this exploration of the transformative years following the Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuild itself in the face of profound loss, massive destruction and revolutionary social change.

WTTW Passport members can stream all four hours any time. 

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

Sunday, February 27 at 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm on WTTW and Monday, February 28 at 6:00 am and 9:00 am on WTTW Prime

Retrace the 400-year-old-story of the Black church in America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., exploring its role as the site of African American organizing, resilience, autonomy, freedom and solidarity.

Stream both parts of the documentary, and explore stories of the Black church in Chicago.

Independent Lens — The Trials of Muhammad Ali

Sunday, February 27 at 8:00 pm on WTTW Prime

This film covers Muhammad Ali's toughest bout: his battle to overturn the five-year prison sentence he received for refusing U.S. military service. It explores Ali's exile years when he was banned from boxing and found himself in the crosshairs of conflicts concerning race, religion, and wartime dissent.

Learn about Ali's significant time in Chicago and his memory here, view archival photos of him in the city, and more at wttw.com/ali.

Marian Anderson: Once in a Hundred Years

Sunday, February 27 at 8:30 pm on WTTW

Trace the arc of classical singer Marian Anderson's life and her struggles against racism and poverty. The program culminates with her battle against the Daughters of the American Revolution, which led to her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

American Experience — Jesse Owens

Sunday, February 27 at 9:30 pm on WTTW Prime

The most famous athlete of his time, his stunning triumph at the 1936 Olympic Games captivated the world even as it infuriated the Nazis. Despite the racial slurs he endured, Jesse Owens' grace and athleticism rallied crowds across the globe. But when the four-time Olympic gold medalist returned home, he could not even ride in the front of a bus.

WTTW Passport members can stream the documentary any time. Plus, meet Ralph Metcalfe, Owens' teammate at the 1936 Olympics and fellow gold medalist, who went on to become a force in Chicago politics. 

The Music Makers of Gennett Records

Suday, February 27 at 10:30 pm on WTTW Prime

Learn the story of the little studio in Richmond, Indiana that captured early recordings of Jazz Age music legends Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, and the singing cowboy Gene Autry.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — Uncovering America

Monday, February 28 at 8:00 pm on WTTW

Courtney B. Vance hosts this celebration of the renowned historian, author and filmmaker.