What to Watch on WTTW for Black History Month
February 1, 2023
Discover the stories of Black History Month on WTTW this February, with programming that examines both local and national perspectives on the arts, music, history, and more. This month brings engaging premieres, including a four-hour series on the history and impact of hip-hop and a local documentary on the architecture of the South Side.
As always, you can catch Chicago Tonight: Black Voices every Saturday at 6:30 pm and Sunday at 10:00 pm. We have plenty to stream on our website, too, with documentaries on Ida B. Wells, the birth of Gospel music in Chicago, and the history of Chicago’s Black metropolis.
Be sure to check the schedule for additional showings of each program.
Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World
This series tells the incredible narrative of struggle, triumph, and resistance through the lens of an art form that has chronicled the emotions, experiences and expressions of Black and Brown communities: Hip Hop. In the aftermath of America's racial and political reckoning in 2020, the perspectives and stories shared in Hip Hop are key to understanding injustice in the U.S. over the last half-century.
Read our interview with a history professor and advisor to the series
Making Black America: Through the Grapevine
Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this four-part series tells the story of the vast social networks and organizations created by and for Black people––beyond the reach of the “White gaze.” Gates talks with scholars, politicians, cultural leaders, and friends to discuss the world behind the color line.
Chicago Tonight: Black Voices
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.
American Experience: Freedom Summer
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.
Independent Lens: The Picture Taker
The creator of nearly 2 millions images that serve as a treasured record of Black history, Ernest Withers was an African American photographer of the civil rights movement. But his legacy was complicated by his role as a paid FBI informant. This documentary explores the question: Was he a friend of the civil rights community, or enemy—or both?
87th Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards
The 87th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards highlights the 2022 winners and their work. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is the only national juried prize recognizing literature that has contributed to our understanding of racism and human diversity. The program is hosted by acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Bonnie Boswell Presents: A Conversation with Pastor James Lawson and Attorney Bryan Stevenson
Bonnie Boswell has an in-depth conversation with Pastor James Lawson and Attorney Bryan Stevenson. Each man, generations apart, have become central figures in America’s peace and justice movement. Lawson has been called “the leading non-violent theorist in the world,” and Stevenson has been referred to as “America’s Gandhi.”
American Experience: Voices of Freedom
Explore the fascinating life of celebrated singer Marian Anderson. In 1939, after being barred from performing at Constitution Hall because she was Black, she triumphed at the Lincoln Memorial in what became a landmark moment in American history.
Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten
Learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, on the 100th anniversary of the crime, and how the community of Tulsa is coming to terms with its past, present, and future.
Redlining: Mapping Inequality in Dayton & Springfield
This documentary tells the national and local story of redlining, a practice that embedded racial segregation and inequality into the development of American cities and suburbs. In neighborhoods outlined in red, loans were not extended, resulting in inequities in wealth, community assets and health that continue to impact communities of color today. This documentary shares the stories of families impacted by redlining, and examines the lasting effects of lending policies and practices that legally encouraged injustices against non-white Americans.
DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis
DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis is a tale of two cities. There is the legendary Chicago that emerged from hardship and misfortune on the prairie to attain world-class status. There is also a less known, but remarkable aspect of Chicago's history—the essential contributions of African Americans to the city's vitality. Celebrate the rich history of African-Americans in Chicago, beginning with Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, who established a trading outpost during the 1780s and is considered the 'Father of Chicago,' to the election of the nation's first Black president, Barack Obama.
American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till
This episode of American Experience tells the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy who was brutally beaten and shot to death in Mississippi. Although his killers were arrested and charged with murder, they were both quickly acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. Soon after, the defendants sold their story, including a detailed account of how they murdered Till, to a journalist. The murder and the trial horrified the nation and the world. Till's death was a spark that helped mobilize the civil rights movement.
Driving While Black
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.
We Were Hyphy
Explore the Hyphy movement that emerged from the streets of Oakland in the 1990s.
Ida B. Wells: A Chicago Stories Special
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. WTTW brings you this Chicago Stories special that tells her story as never before. Visit the website to learn more about Wells’ life and work.
You can stream the show there any time, too.
Building/Blocks: The Architecture of Chicago’s South Side
The architecture of Chicago is world class. But often overlooked are the remarkable buildings and luscious green spaces of the city's South Side. Take a trip with architecture photographer and writer Lee Bey as he explores these masterpieces of design and engineering hidden in plain sight.
Hear Bey discuss the documentary, and read our conversation with Bey and architecture critic Blair Kamin on their book, Who Is The City For? You can also see Bey’s photography in a pair of photo essays that explore the memories of Ida B. Wells and Muhammad Ali.
Underground Railroad: The William Still Story
This program tells the story of William Still, one of the most important yet unheralded individuals of the Underground Railroad. The film details the accounts of black abolitionists, who had everything at stake as they helped fugitives follow the North Star to Canada.
American Masters: How It Feels to Be Free
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.
American Masters: Sammy Davis, Jr.
Explore the entertainer's vast talent and journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Features Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and clips from his TV, film and concert performances.
Revisit a 1968 interview with Sammy Davis, Jr. from our archive.
Independent Lens: Outta the Muck
A co-production with Black Public Media, Outta the Muck wades into the rich soil of Pahokee, a rural Florida town on the banks of Lake Okeechobee that has sent over a dozen players to the NFL. The fiercely self-determined community tells their stories of Black achievement and resilience in the face of tragic storms and personal trauma.
Hollywood’s Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story
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. Williams was one of the most successful architects in the country. His list of residential clients included Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz. But at the height of his career Paul Williams wasn't always welcome in the restaurants and hotels he designed or the neighborhoods where he built homes, because of his race.
Slavery by Another Name
This documentary tells a harrowing story of how in the South, even as chattel slavery came to an end, new forms of involuntary servitude, including convict leasing, debt slavery and peonage, took its place with shocking force—brutalizing and ultimately circumscribing the lives of hundreds of thousands of African Americans well into the 20th century. The program tells the forgotten stories of both victims and perpetrators of neoslavery and includes interviews with their descendants living today.
American Masters: Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers and critics on an exploration of the powerful themes she confronted throughout her literary career in this artful and intimate meditation that examines the life and work of the legendary storyteller.
American Masters: Ailey
Discover the legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey whose dances center on the Black American experience with grace, strength and beauty. Featuring previously unheard audio interviews with Ailey, interviews with those close to him and an intimate glimpse into the Ailey studios today.
Independent Lens: Mr. SOUL!
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.
Chicago Stories: The Birth of Gospel
This episode of Chicago Stories traces the birth and growth of gospel music in Chicago in the 1930s. The story follows "The Father of Gospel," Thomas A. Dorsey, who wrote one of gospel's early hits while coping with his grief over the death of his wife and child. It explores the roots of gospel from southern spirituals during slavery, through gospel's early years, using rare historic recordings and contemporary performances from the choirs of Trinity United Church of Christ and Greater Harvest Baptist Church.
Live from the Harris Theater: Adrian Dunn’s Emancipation
In a thrilling live performance from Chicago's Harris Theater for Music and Dance, acclaimed composer, conductor and singer Adrian Dunn's Emancipation fuses classical, gospel, hip hop, and spirituals to explore the question: What does it mean to be Black and free in America in the 21st Century? Emancipation celebrates the journeys of Black lives in America through genres created by Black Americans, performed powerfully by The Adrian Dunn Singers and Rize Orchestra.
John Lewis: Get in the Way
Follow the journey of 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.
In part 1, Jackie Robinson rises from humble origins to integrate Major League Baseball, performing brilliantly despite the threats and abuse he faces on and off the field and, in the process, challenges the prejudiced notions of what a black man can achieve. In part 2, Robinson uses his fame to speak out against injustice, alienating many who had once lauded him for 'turning the other cheek.' After baseball, he seeks ways to fight inequality, but as he faces a crippling illness, he struggles to remain relevant.
Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Experience the aftermath of the Civil War: a bewildering, exhilarating, and terrifying time. For African Americans, despite their hard-won freedom, support for their social, economic, and political gains did not last.
Business success goes hand in hand with the American Dream. Through a series of vignettes, BusinessMakers showcases the history and contributions of some of the nation's most successful African American leaders, both entrepreneurs and those in Corporate America while providing insight into the economic, political, and social impact of these iconic business leaders and their lives.
Watch all four parts of the Ken Burns series that brings to life the iconic heavyweight boxing champion who became an inspiration to people everywhere.
Read more about Ali, see images, and discover his local connection to Chicago on the website.
Great Performances: The Magic of Spirituals
Glimpse behind the curtain at opera legends Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman's famed concert at Carnegie Hall on March 18, 1990, featuring performance clips and new interviews with opera star Angel Blue, Met Opera General Manager Peter Gelb and more.
Independent Lens: Owned: A Tale of Two Americas
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. In the years since the 2008 housing collapse, protests in cities across the country have highlighted the stark racial disparities that define much of America. The crash of suburbia and urban unrest are not unrelated, the seeds of each germinated by the United States' post-war housing policy. Over time, racist policies have created subcultures in our built environments that are inherently vulnerable and makes clear our society can't continue to thrive in a segregated state.
The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song
This series traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America, all the way down to its bedrock role as the site of African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power. The documentary reveals how Black people have worshiped and improvised ways to bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World, while translating them into a form of Christianity that was not only truly their own, but a redemptive force for a nation whose original sin was found in their ancestors' enslavement.
Explore some Black churches in Chicago and their contribution to gospel music, architecture, and more.
American Experience: Jesse Owens
On April 2, 1936, when the 22-year-old son of a sharecropper entered the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, he was, Jesse Owens later remembered, barely able to control his anger. The young athlete would channel his raw emotions into some of the most remarkable achievements in the history of athletics, winning four gold medals.
Meet Owens’ Olympic teammate Ralph Metcalfe, who also became a powerful Chicago politician.
Black Broadway: A Proud History, A Limitless Future
Celebrate the rich history of Black roles and voices on Broadway with an all-star cast, including Stephanie Mills, Nova Payton, Corbin Bleu, Norm Lewis, Tiffany Mann, John Manzari, Amber Iman, Peppermint, Nikki Renée Daniels, Leah Flynn and Sydney James Harcourt. Selections include songs from The Wiz, The Color Purple, Company, Porgy & Bess, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and more.