Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: these are his stories, these are his songs

“The church is the oldest, the most continuous and most important institution ever created by the African American people.” — Henry Louis Gates, Jr. told Jeffrey Brown of PBS in an interview about his new four hour two-part documentary The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song that premiered on PBS in February as a salute to Black History Month. Gates should know since he is the writer, host and executive producer of the film aimed at telling the amazing stories of the people who shaped not only religion but also politics and culture through more than 400 years of black American life in this country.

Johnson & Johnson, one of the corporate sponsors of the documentary, introduced the PBS special with these words: “Not all black American stories are simple or easy to tell, but for many years Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has told them like no one else by rediscovering lost narratives, correcting historical misconceptions, resurrecting forgotten heroes. Johnson & Johnson has been with him through all these years and will still be along for this incredible journey.”

From the primitive Praise House on St. Helena Island, one of the sea islands in Beaufort County on the lower coast of South Carolina, to the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that was the site of the massacre of nine members including pastor Clementa Pinckney in June, 2015, the black church in the United States has helped to define the journey of African Americans from enslavement to emancipation, from Jim Crow to public lynchings, from segregation to Civil Rights.

Dr. Gates (PhD from Cambridge) is internationally recognized and respected as an author, literary critic, professor, public intellectual, documentary film producer, essayist and historian whose life-long passion for black history focuses on weaving the African American experience into the fabric of a multi-racial, multi-cultural community that delineates his hope for the country he calls home. He serves currently as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Sound stuffy? Not so much. One of my favorite scenes in the Black Church documentary (that I’ve now watched two times!) is the visit by Dr. Gates to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Patrice Turner, a Director of Worship and Arts as well as an accomplished gospel pianist, sits at a piano in a large empty worship auditorium with only Dr. Gates standing next to the piano, clapping, singing, thoroughly enjoying two favorite spirituals “Ride On, King Jesus” no man can hinder thee and “Great Gettin’ Up Morning” fare ye well, fare ye well. Thank you, Jesus! he exclaimed when the music stopped.

Clearly the documentary celebrates not only the enduring faith of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. but also acknowledges the shortcomings of the black church in its dealings through the years with sexism, homophobia and domestic violence. For example, one of the unresolved questions today is where is the black church in Black Lives Matter?

We celebrate Black History Month in February every year, and this year I choose to honor a living historian whose stories inspire me and whose songs lift me up from the inharmonious existence of a Covid-19 universe. Thank you, Dr. Gates!


Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: these are his stories, these are his songs

  1. Wayside Artist says:

    I really need to get a television so I can watch programs like this one. I know I would enjoy it.
    Thank you, Sheila.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A true Renaissance woman you are, Ann! No television??!! You and Pretty who threatens to cut off my cable channels on a monthly basis.


      • Wayside Artist says:

        Ha, ha!! She’s ruthless! I miss TV. It’s less Renaissance and more Post Modern confusion. I wasn’t paying attention and TV’s suddenly became complicated. I’ve given up.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank goodness for our friends who give lesbians a good name for tinkering with electronics like TVs – plus our son who rescues us from ourselves. Mayday. Mayday. Send help north to Pennsylvania!!


  2. cindy knoke says:

    Two people who stop me in my tracks, and drop me to my knees, are Jesse Norman and Kathleen Battle.

    Liked by 1 person

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