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Washington University Film & Media Archive

This Far By Faith: African American Spiritual Journeys

A Major 6-part PBS Television Series Traces the Religious Journey of Blacks in America

For more information see PBS' This Far By Faith web site.

This Far by Faith explores the connection between faith communities and the development of African-American cultural values and practices, and celebrates the role of religion in addressing the social, political, economic and educational ideals central to American society, the development of citizens, the creation of leaders, the formation of communities, and the political empowerment of people.

The 6 hours of This Far by Faith examine the African American religion experience in America through the major milestones of a three hundred year period of the country's history. From the arrival of the early African slaves through the Civil War, reconstruction, Jim Crow, the great depression, the civil rights era and the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st, we see the epic journey of a people in search of survival, dignity and freedom. This Far by Faith is a joint production of Blackside, Inc. and the Faith Project. It is the last project conceptualized by legendary filmmaker Henry Hampton whose contributions include award-winning and history making projects such as Eyes on the Prize, America's War on Poverty, and l'll Make Me a World.

Before his death in 1998, Hampton wrote that it was his dream to celebrate the sweep and range of African-American religious experience "in the context of the nation's struggle to realize the goals of democracy and humanity: who we are as a nation, what we believe as a people, and what we consider worth dying-and living-for."

The series is co-executive produced by June Cross and Dante James.

Hour One: There Is a River
Directed and produced by W. Noland Walker.

The first hour of the series explores the evolution of African-American religious thought, from the beliefs and rituals Africans brought to America to the influence of Christian teachings imposed on slaves in the new world. It charts the growth of independent black churches and attempts by slaves and free blacks to unify the black community. Through the lives of two nineteenth-century black leaders, Sojourner Truth and Denmark Vesey, we see how religion and belief in God provided hope in the face of desperation.

Hour Two: God Is a Negro
Directed and produced by June Cross.

This hour focuses on the role of Henry McNeal Turner, whose efforts to create a sense of self-respect among African Americans began in the political arena and shifted to the religious realm. An organizer of the Georgia Republican Party during Reconstruction, Turner's emphasis on black nationalism and his rejection of white supremacy alienated him from mainstream leaders, but led to a greater role for the black church in African-American culture. Turner's philosophy and teachings encouraged his followers to find God from within, raising their opinions about themselves and all black people.

Hour Three: Guide My Feet
Directed and produced by Lulie Hadad.

This hour follows the movement of African Americans from the South to the promised land of the North, from country to city, from rejection to hope. It is also the story of Cecil Williams and Thomas A. Dorsey, two men a generation apart, both Southern migrants, united by a vision to take the stark reality of the streets into the church, challenging Christianity to be true to its promise of acceptance. In the black community of Chicago, Thomas Dorsey, a pianist with blues singer Ma Rainey, pioneers a different direction for spiritual expression: gospel music. In San Francisco, the Reverend Cecil Williams strives to pull down barriers with his "come as you are" church. Through their great efforts, Dorsey, Williams, and others create a new faith and a new music.

Hour Four: Freedom Faith
Directed and produced by Alice Markowitz.

This hour traces the connections between "freedom faith"-the belief that God intended all people to be equal and free-and the Civil Rights Movement. Faith gave black families a way of insulating themselves from the oppression of segregation in the 1940s and 1950s, and provided the seeds for opposition to Jim Crow. Many of the protests of the 1960s are shown from the perspective of Prathia Hall, an eminent black preacher who was born in 1940 and literally grew up with the movement. Hall is one of many voices in the film-voices of ordinary people who, through faith, risk their lives to challenge America to live up to its promise of equality.

Hour Five: Inheritors of the Faith
Directed and produced by Valerie Linson.

This episode follows the journeys of African Americans who seek a spiritual experience in the religious traditions of Islam and Yoruba, and explores how the role of Christianity is questioned as a strategy to effect social change. Yoruba is a spiritual tradition that originated in West Africa and pre-dates Christianity. With a focus on honoring ancestors, Yoruba worshipers find a means of gaining strength and spirituality from within. Another spiritual direction that gained prominence in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement was the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. The film follows Muhammad's son, Warith Deen. When he took over the movement after his father's death, he transformed the organization to more closely follow the practice of orthodox Islam. Today he leads the Muslim American Society, the largest group of practicing African-American Muslims in the United States (Louis X. Farrakhan resurrected the ideology of the old Nation of Islam in 1978).

Hour Six: Rise Up and Call Their Names
Directed and produced by Leslie Farrell.

The last hour in the series follows 60 people in the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage on a physical and spiritual voyage as they walk from Massachusetts to Florida, then make their way to the Caribbean and ultimately to Africa. Their purpose is to pray for the spirits of their ancestors, and to discover for themselves the spiritual value of taking such a journey. Along the way, they visit the Masjid Khalifah Mosque and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. After months of difficult travel and deep soul-searching, the pilgrims reach Africa with a stronger sense of identity and purpose.

This Far by Faith: African-American Spiritual Journeys is a co-production of Blackside Inc. (Eyes on the Prize, America's War on Poverty, and Malcolm X: Make it Plain) and The Faith Project, in association with the Independent Television Service. It is presented on PBS by WGBH and ITVS.

It was directed and produced by W. Noland Walker (There Is a River), June Cross (God Is a Negro), Lulie Hadad (Guide My Feet), Alice Markowitz (Freedom Faith), Valerie Linson (Inheritors of the Faith), and Leslie Farrell (Rise Up and Call Their Names). God Is a Negro was directed by Regge Life. The series executive producer for Blackside Inc. is Dante J. James. The executive producer for The Faith Project is June Cross. Lorraine Toussaint (Any Day Now, Crossing Jordan) is the series narrator. Judi Hampton is the president of Blackside Inc.

Funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Lilly Endowment, Inc., The Ford Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Independent Television Service, The Annie Casey Foundation, and The National Black Programming Consortium.

This Far by Faith is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers, and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The descriptive narration is available on the SAP channel of stereo TVs and VCRs. For more information about This Far by Faith, visit the series website at: PBS

Premiere: June 24-26, 2003 on PBS.