The 22 Best Documentaries About African-American History

Jul 5, 2023 | Best Of, Culture, History

African American history is not just a story of slavery and poverty, but rather one of resilience, courage, and determination. From the civil rights movement to the modern day, African Americans have played an integral role in shaping America as we know it today – often while facing immense adversity. This article will explore some of the best documentaries about this important part of American history. Through these films, viewers can learn more about how African Americans fought for their rights and achieved many incredible successes despite great odds. So read on to discover more about this inspiring history that continues to shape our country today!


1. Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

This documentary dives deep into the world of photography and its power for African Americans to challenge traditional stereotypes. It takes us back to the Civil War era, where we see Frederick Douglass photographed in a suit and soldiers proudly posing for pictures dressed in uniform. Through this lens, we get an insight into America’s history that is often forgotten or manipulated.


2. Netflix ’13th’

This award-winning documentary dives deep into the issue of high incarceration rates in America. Combining archival footage and interviews with activists and scholars, it brings a powerful insight into this important topic. It has earned multiple accolades, including Best Documentary at the Emmys, BAFTA and NAACP Image Awards. Don’t miss out on this eye-opening film!


3. Slavery by another name

This 90-minute documentary is groundbreaking in its exploration of how slavery was a key factor in the United States’ economic prosperity since its inception. It looks at the historical and present day practices of convict leasing, debt peonage, Jim Crow laws and segregation to show how white supremacy has been reinforced through these systems. Slavery by Another Name challenges the assumption that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and shines a light on the ways it continues today. This film is an essential part of understanding African-American history and our nation as a whole.


4. Freedom Riders

In 1961, the United States was divided by segregation and civil rights were being largely ignored. But a brave group of college students decided to take action: they became Freedom Riders, risking their lives to put pressure on President John F. Kennedy for reform across public laws & facilities, schools and beyond within our nation. Veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s inspiring documentary chronicles this courageous band of activists who achieved an astonishing testament to what youth can do when motivated by personal conviction and courage. Watch this video to learn more about African-American history through the eyes of these incredible individuals!


5. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a powerful documentary that takes us back to a time of revolutionary minds, community life and radical ideas. Featuring candid interviews from the people of this era, it’s an exhilarating account of the American revolution with music composed/produced by Questlove and Om’Mas Keith! This treasure trove of 16mm material was shot by Swedish filmmakers but languished in a basement for 30 years – until now. Watch this amazing documentary and get an inside look at African-American history during one of its most important times!


6. I Am not your Negro

Raoul Peck’s new documentary dives into the lives and legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. through the eyes of James Baldwin. This powerful film offers a fresh perspective on current American history as it relates to black people, by drawing upon Baldwin’s notes that were left unfinished at his passing. Watch this captivating documentary to gain insight into how race is viewed in today’s society!


7. Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans

The Faubourg Treme neighborhood in New Orleans has been home to a vibrant and unique African-American culture for generations. In this documentary, you can explore the streets of this historic community and hear stories from locals about what makes it so special. From the birthplace of jazz music to the vendors selling roasted nuts and fruits, come take an inside look at life on one block in America’s oldest African American community—just outside the French Quarter. Plus, see how children play hopscotch at their school; watch adults sipping coffee while reading newspapers; join young men barbecuing ribs for dinner; observe neighbors chatting over backyard fences or hanging clothes out to dry!


8. February One: The Story of the Greensboro Four

This documentary is a powerful look at the civil rights movement as it unfolded in North Carolina. It focuses on four African Americans who courageously sat down at segregated lunch counters, risking violence and intimidation to make their voices heard. Through interviews with students from UNCG, white supporters of the cause, and black residents affected by events, this film provides an insightful exploration into one of the most pivotal moments in American history that sparked similar actions across the country for racial equality.


9. King In The Wilderness HBO Documentary about African American History

The documentary, King in the Wilderness, gives us a unique perspective into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final years and his unwavering commitment to nonviolence. Featuring archival footage and intimate photos taken during this period of unrest in America, as well as phone conversations recorded by President Lyndon B. Johnson who sometimes acted as an ally or adversary to Dr. King’s fight for civil rights- it reveals what happened between 1965 Voting Rights Act till his death in 1968 when he said that “his dream turned into a nightmare.” Directed by Peter Kunhardt (whose HBO film “James Foley: A New American Hero” won an Emmy), this documentary sheds light on how even when faced with criticism from all angles of the spectrum – from Black Power groups criticizing his pacifism to President Johnson finding him irresponsible for speaking against Vietnam War protests – Dr. King remained unshakably committed to peaceful protest until the very end.


10. Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution

This documentary is a powerful exploration of the history and legacy of the Black Panther Party. It tells the story of how black revolutionaries led a national movement to fight racism and oppression, often clashing with police in their demonstrations against state violence. In addition to this struggle, it highlights some of the amazing community social programs that were created by members of the party, such as free breakfast programs, medical clinics, clothing distribution centers (known as “survival stores”), and schools – all meant to support both members in Oakland—where they had their largest following—and other parts of California where there wasn’t much support for them. Get ready for an inspiring journey through African-American history!


11. The History of Civil Rights In The USA

Discover the history of Jim Crow laws, which were enacted in the Southern United States after Reconstruction to mandate racial segregation. This documentary will cover how these laws impacted African-Americans and other ethnicities through legal discrimination. Learn about the origin of this term from an American minstrel performer who used stereotypes to entertain audiences during this period. Explore the implications that such legislation had on society and how it still affects us today.


12. Malcolm X : Make It Plain

Malcolm X’s life was full of transformation and struggle. From his humble beginnings in Omaha as Malcolm Little to becoming a small-time street hustler known as “Detroit Red,” his story is one of resilience, perseverance, and ultimately a fight for freedom. His journey ended with a trip to Mecca, which brought about an acceptance of white allies after years of standing up against racism. But who killed him? And why has the mystery never been solved? This documentary explores the life and death of this powerful civil rights leader.


13. American Negro: Unreleased Documentary From 1960s

This video is a must-watch for anyone interested in African-American history! With interviews from some of the most influential civil rights leaders, this documentary dives into the struggles and successes faced by Black people in America. It covers topics such as voting, housing and education; with personal stories to bring it all to life. Featuring James Farmer’s initiation of one of the 1961 Freedom Rides, Roy Wilkins’ leadership at NAACP between 1955-1977, Whitney Young’s term leading the National Urban League from 1961-1971 and Ralph Metcalfe winning Olympic medals in 1932 & 1936 – this documentary offers an accessible overview of African American History.


14. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

The 22 Best Documentaries About African-American History is an eye-opening look into the past that shows how far we have come in terms of civil rights and equality. This documentary starts with the Civil War and Reconstruction period, which held such high hopes for black people but ended up being a broken promise due to northern support withdrawal. As time passed by, segregation and disenfranchisement became laws enforced through violence and terror tactics. We also get an insight into some notable figures like Benjamin Singleton, Ida Wells, or Booker T Washington who helped shape this history. Tune in to find out more about these 22 best documentaries about African American history!


15. The Story of American Slavery : Documentary on How Slavery Dominated America

This documentary is a must-watch for those interested in African-American history. It dives into the issues of slavery, and delves deep into its effects on American society. From its inception to its conclusion, this film provides an eye-opening insight into one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history – providing viewers with an understanding they won’t soon forget

16. The Story of Marcus Garvey

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was a revolutionary Jamaican political leader and entrepreneur who believed in the return of African people to their ancestral lands. He spoke before large audiences at public meetings around Jamaica during his “Gospel Crusade” and his speeches were often transcribed or typed out for wide distribution via newspapers and magazines like The Negro World which he founded on August 20th 1917. Learn more about this important figure by watching our documentary about Garvey’s life and legacy!


17. Amend: The Fight for America – Netflix

The history of African-Americans in the United States is a story of courage and resilience. Will Smith brings these stories to life as executive producer and host for this series of 22 documentaries about the struggles, triumphs, and ongoing fight for justice by African-Americans throughout our nation’s history. Tune in to see how brave Americans have fought for freedom and equality since America was founded, so that values like liberty and justice could be enshrined into our constitution.


18. The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

This Emmy award-winning PBS series explores the African American history by tracing its roots back to the first documented slaves that arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. The episode delves into how these individuals were caught up in a vast transatlantic slave trade empire connecting three continents. It also examines how America’s independence from Britain and France’s freedom from British rule impacted slavery and African Americans here in America. Tune in to this powerful documentary for an insightful look at this deep part of our history!


19. The Black History Of The United States of America

From the founding of America to present day, African-American history has been an integral part of the country’s story. In this documentary we explore how black people have fought for their rights since day one and how far they’ve come in achieving them. We also look at some of the best documentaries about African-American history that have helped shape our understanding of this important subject. Don’t miss A Big History Of America!


20. African American History Documentary

African-American history is a deep and complex chapter in the story of America. From their struggles to survive slavery, to their fight for civil rights, this population has had an indelible impact on our nation’s culture. This documentary explores 22 films that capture the African-American experience throughout time. Through these stories, we can gain insight into how far we have come – and what it will take to keep moving forward.


21. This is why they are BANNING black history in schools..

Do you know why Black History is being removed from schools? This documentary uncovers the truth about this sad trend and exposes the hidden agenda behind it. Through interviews with experts, educators and students, we learn how African-American history has been systematically erased in our educational system. Watch now to get a better understanding of what’s happening and how we can fight back!


22. Maafa 21 – Black Genocide in 21st Century America

The history of African-Americans is rife with tragedy, and the documentary film Maafa21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America reveals how eugenics and population control have been used to reduce African-American births. The title “Maafa” comes from a Swahili word which translates to “terrible tragedy” and refers to the time of the middle passage during the slave trade. In this documentary, it’s explored how these tragic events continue into our present day. Get an in depth look at this dark part of history by watching Maafa21 today!


Read On – Our Latest Top Documentaries Lists

David B