Jazz music plays in the background as the scene is set. It’s the late 1920’s and early 30’s in upstate New York. Our host Roxane Gay expains how many Black Americans had fled the oppressing racial laws that were in the South, and highlights the life of the photographer, James Van Der Zee, who captured moments of Black Americans living their lives in Harlem and other Urban Black neighborhoods.
Through audio clippings of interviews with his third wife Donna, and of those whose families were captured by Van Der Zee, his life and work are dissected. Even though he didn’t realize it at the time, his work helped depict Black life in America.
The podcast Historically Black by The Washington Post features stories like this and many more during every month of the year. Now it’s easier than ever to tune in and listen.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate and honor Black Culture as well as examine the Black experience in the United States and the trials that were and still are endured. There are more perspectives to history than what is taught in classrooms, and if you want to learn more, podcasts are a great way to gain a new point of view. Listening to first hand experiences and open conversations can open your eyes to a whole new perspective.
Here are five that are particularly great at telling stories in a way that transports the listener into a new world, or make them feel like they are sitting at the table where the conversation is happening.
Code Switch by NPR
Wanting a new perspective? Code Switch has you covered. This podcast is hosted by Journalists of Color that explore how race affects society historically, culturally, and everything in between. This year they have compiled a playlist specifically for Black History month featuring eighteen different shows, including their own, surrounding topics about the hidden heroes and buried history that the textbooks in schools don’t seem to share when it comes to Black America.
Black on the Bluff by Black Student Union at the University of Portland
Black on the Bluff offers new insight as to what a Black experience is at the University of Portland and is organized by the Black Student union at UP. It is hosted by Annastacia Martin, Karl Kahambwe, and Sharif Morton who recount their own personal experiences of what it is like to be Black with topics surrounding the moment they became aware of their race, using the term Black versus Aftrican-American, Black Femininity, and on their latest episode, international education.
Historically Black By Washington Post
When the Washington Post covered the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, they prioritized the inclusion of many different experiences. They allowed for people to submit artifacts that sum up their own experiences of Black history and culture to create their own “people’s museum”. This podcast brings these stories and artifacts to life by including personal interviews and using sound and music to create an ambience that many have never experienced before.
Witness Black History By BBC
When learning about Black history in schools, not much information is shared by those who experienced it first hand. With this podcast, BBC strives to share interviews with those who experienced key moments in Black and Civil Rights history. Most episodes don’t span longer than 10 minutes but are full of great information presented in an immersive audio experience. It’s great to listen to in those awkward 10 minutes between classes, right before having to hop back on Zoom.
Not only does it share moments from a US perspective but it also travels around the world. In the most recent episode, I Just Wanted to be White, we follow author Ika Hügel-Marshall through her experience of growing up as a mixed race child in Germany post-World War II. She recounts the constant abuse that was forced upon her, from kids scrubbing her face to prove that it wasn’t just chocolate on her skin to having full blown exorcisms done on her as a child so that they could get rid of the “demons” inside her so that she would be worth more.
The Nod by Gimlet Media
Before The Nod became a daily show on Quibi, it started out as a podcast that “celebrates the genius, the innovation, and the resilience that is so particular to being black - in America and around the world.” Listening to hosts Brittany Luse and Eric Edding feels like you’re listening to two friends having open conversations on all dimensions on Black life.
They cover everything from critiquing the media with NPR journalist Sam Sanders, to learning about the origins of the Cha Cha Slide. They are candid with their listeners and in an interview with The Verge, Edding describes how Luse and himself want their audience to perceive their show.
“We call ourselves Blackness’ biggest fans.” Edding said, “We don’t call ourselves, necessarily experts. We feel like we have a unique way of looking at things, and our show is our exploration of that.”
Brienna Haro is a News Reporter for The Beacon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.