We’re nearly halfway through February, which the United States of America also knows as Black History Month. Perhaps there are relevant subjects on which you’ve been meaning to catch up, but you haven’t quite got around to it yet. If so, never fear: in the next couple of weeks, you’ll have plenty of time to binge-watch the Youtube series Black History in Two Minutes. Written and narrated by historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., it has so far covered everything from Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth to the Civil War and emancipation to the civil rights movement and school integration.
Those of us who went to school in the US — and especially those of us who did so after the institution of Black History Month, in 1970 — will remember those subjects having been discussed in the classroom. But even within the brief confines of two minutes (sometimes sprawling out to three minutes and change), Gates introduces facts most of us will never have heard.
For instance, the very first underground railroad in the eighteenth century ran not from the south of the country to the north, but the other way around, Spanish Florida having then been “a sanctuary for slaves who fled south from English rule” — though the freedom it offered did require conversion to Catholicism.
Also among the nearly 100 videos Black History in Two Minutes has so far produced are a wealth of bite-sized treatments of movements and figures important to not just black culture but the whole of American culture. These include Billie Holiday and Maya Angelou, the 1893 World’s Fair, the births of jazz and hip hop, and Negro league baseball. The show also encompasses episodes of history well within living memory, such as the Los Angeles riots and the election of Barack Obama — as well as the earlier, pioneering presidential run of Jesse Jackson. And in light of Jackson’s campaign T‑shirts’ having made a fashion comeback in Korea, where I live, it now seems to say that the culture that has arisen out of black history isn’t just vital to the culture of America, but of the world.
You can watch the complete playlist of videos at the top, or visit the Black History in Two Minutes website here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.