Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities PBS Premiere

The documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” airs on Feb. 19 at 9 p.m. on the PBS series, Independent Lens. Champlain College Associate Professor Van Dora Williams was the archival researcher for the film. She serves as the Program Director for Broadcast Media Production, Filmmaking and Sonic Arts in the Communication and Creative Media Division.

She spent weeks in the archival rooms of Hampton University in Hampton, Va. and Tuskegee University in Alabama searching for pictures, documents, and stories in order to provide a summary of the histories of these two universities. Williams says, “The documentary tried to tell a very complicated, but important, story about a very important part of American history. There are about 140 historically black colleges and universities sprinkled throughout the southern and mid-western states. It is impossible to tell the unique history of all of these institutions in a 90-minute documentary.”
She attempted to find characters and stories which would provide a snapshot of this complicated history and allow the directors, Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams, to tell the story in a compelling and responsible way. The process took more than a year and involved lengthy discussions of how to share this history.
Though it was exhausting, Williams says the process was also exciting.
“It was exhilarating to touch a handwritten letter by Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Washington Carver. These were men who I learned about in school and through family stories and I had the opportunity to review a document they personally handled.”
“Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities” examines the impact Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had on American history, culture, and national identity. It is the third of a series called America Revisited. Click here to read more about the documentary and to watch the trailer.