History is just the practice of the ancient art of storytelling. Some of our best storytellers today use podcasts. There are fewer collective fires to gather around for the telling of stories now, but humans are fundamentally creatures of story. Our suggestion? Listen to one of these with a friend, and talk about it after.
Eight Podcasts to Deepen Your Knowledge of Black History
By Justine Goode
As Americans seek to expand their knowledge of Black history—much of which has long been excluded from textbooks or mainstream conversations about American heroes, thinkers, and revolutionaries—a likely starting point is the New York Times’ 1619 podcast, a seminal examination of the history and lasting legacy of American slavery. It’s an excellent but limited-run podcast, with just six episodes, so it leaves plenty more to learn about Black historical figures, pivotal events in the ongoing fight for civil rights, and the ways America’s past still painfully informs our present.
These eight podcasts illuminate stories from Black history with the same urgency, care, and impact as 1619, and more often than not, bring a deeply personal perspective to national history. We’ve also chosen to highlight episodes that discuss the histories of protests, civil disobedience, uprisings, and people fighting to make change, all of which help to further contextualize our current moment in American history. Thanks to these storytellers, historians, and journalists, learning about Black history has never been more accessible or dynamic.
Founded by Jermaine Fowler, Humanity Archive is an educational website and storytelling podcast that shares untold or underexposed stories from history. “A lot of the stories of history are being told from one perspective,” Fowler said in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. “I saw that gap and I wanted to close it.” While not a historian by trade (he studied business), Fowler sees historical storytelling and the sharing of knowledge as a vocation—as well as a means of fostering empathy and understanding between cultures. A deft storyteller with a sonorous voice, Fowler’s passion for his material is palpable as he unfurls the hidden histories of figures like Crispus Attucks, a martyr of the American revolution, and Benjamin Banneker, a free Black man in the 1700s who challenged Thomas Jefferson’s views on slavery.
Listen: “Ida B. Wells: No More Lynching,” the story of the fearless anti-lynching crusader who used investigative journalism to reveal the horrific murders of Black people to the nation in the early 1900s.
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With celebrities including Keegan-Michael Key, Roxane Gay, and Issa Rae narrating, Historically Black uses personal objects to map Black history. Each episode explores the story behind a listener-submitted artifact—a photograph, an instrument, a piece of jewelry—and in the process creates a sort of “people’s museum” that honors the lived experiences of various Black Americans. Created in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, it’s a unique and intimate way to approach history, illuminating the ways the personal can be fiercely tied to the political.
Listen: “The Spirit of the Million Man March,” which brings the 1995 gathering of Black men to life through a touching, funny, and thought-provoking conversation between a millennial woman and her father who attended the march.
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Hosted by Mark Winston Griffith and Max Freedman, School Colors is a documentary podcast that follows generations of parents and educators fighting for educational equity in Central Brooklyn. As the hosts tackle topics like gentrification and charter schools, School Colors reveals how race, class, and power heavily impact the quality of education Black students are able to receive. Not only is the podcast impressive in the rigor of its reporting and the sleekness of its production, it also emphasizes the importance of learning history on a local level.
Listen: “Episode 1: Old School,” which launches the series by asking the question: after decades of overcrowding, why are the schools in Bed-Stuy’s District 16 half-empty? The answer has nothing to do with the pandemic, and everything to do with systemic inequities baked into New York’s schools.
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Hosted by Adena J. White, Kara Wilkins, and Katrina Dupins, Blackbelt Voices explores the vastness of Black Southern culture through first-person narratives and interviews with prominent scholars. It’s another podcast that highlights the importance and richness of more localized Black history—especially when depictions of “Southern culture” are often limited to the experiences of white Southerners. The name of the podcast itself also has complex and deep roots: “Black Belt” originally described a region of Alabama known for its dark, fertile soil, which in turn made it a highly profitable area for slavery. Today, more than half of Black Americans live in the South, and Blackbelt Voices spotlights their stories and experiences.
Listen: “Rioting in American History,” which looks back at America’s history of racial violence with professor Brian Mitchell of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who provides a historical perspective on the George Floyd protests.
Black History Buff
From Miss Lala, “the iron-jawed acrobat,” to Bill Richmond, “the first Black sports star,” to Yasuke, “the forgotten Black Samurai,” Black History Buff shines a light on the inspiring stories of Black historical figures from all over the world. Kur Lewis, the show’s creator, was motivated to create the podcast as a means of explaining difficult topics like slavery to his young son, and his British accent is one of the show’s greatest assets. With each episode clocking in at around 10-20 minutes, Black History Buff is an elegant and efficient way for listeners to expand their knowledge of Black culture across the globe.
Listen: “The Little Rock Nine,” about the group of nine Black students who were initially prevented from attending a racially segregated school in 1957 by Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, who defied the president and called the National Guard on the teenagers.
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Witness Black History
Launched by BBC as an extension of its Witness History podcast series, Witness Black History features interviews with people who were actually present for, or have close ties to key moments in Black and civil rights history. From Rodney King to George Stinney, Jr.’s sister to Reverend Earl Neil, a Black Panther who organized free breakfast for local school children, this interview series is deeply personal and profoundly moving, grounding historical narratives in the raw, honest testimonies of the people who lived them.
Listen: “The Killing of Amadou Diallo,” which features an interview with Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou. After Diallo was shot by the NYPD in 1999, thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to protest. But his mother strives to remember him in life, not in death.
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Black History Year
Produced by PushBlack, a nonprofit Black media company, Black History Year introduces its listeners to thinkers and activists who have been erased or otherwise marginalized from mainstream conversations about history. The show was launched in mid-May, so while it’s a recent addition to the Black-history podcast lineup, its vision and voice has been crystal clear from the first episode, about Sarah Rector, a young Black girl in the 1900s who became a millionaire—and was forced into hiding—when oil was struck on a her family’s land. Featuring interviews with experts, Black History Year provides crisp historical storytelling and analysis, animated by host Jay Walker’s excellent narration.
Listen: “Is This the Blueprint for Black Liberation?,” a conversation with Brandon Byrd that outlines the rich and ongoing history of Black resistance and what we can learn from the most successful Black rebellion in history.
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Created by Natasha McEachron, Noire Histoir is a multimedia exploration of history and inspirational stories from across the Black diaspora. The weekly podcast features profiles of notable figures (particularly Black women, including Matilda Evans, M.D., Shirley Chisholm, and Anna Julia Cooper), examinations of events like the Tulsa race massacre, and reviews of movies and books. Though the production is simple—no music, slick editing, or sound effects—it speaks to the strength of the material and McEachron’s calm narration style that the stories still easily capture the listener’s attention without any bells and whistles.
Listen: “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement,” a book review that explores the life and legacy of Baker, a civil and human rights activist who has been called the one of the “most influential women in the civil rights movement” and held high-ranking positions within the NAACP and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
This article was first published in Vanity Fair.