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New ABC Series, 'Soul of a Nation,' Explores the Black Experience in America
March 2, 2021  | By Mike Hughes  | 2 comments

Soul of a Nation
 arrives Tuesday on ABC, eluding many of the usual categories.

It's "a journey through Black storytelling," Marie Nelson, creator of the six-week series, told the Television Critics Association (TCA).

It's also "sort of a news variety show," said producer Robe Imbriano.

The emphasis is on variety.

Yes, this is an ABC News production, with serious subjects. The opener (10 p.m. ET, Tuesday, March 2) will include one segment on reparations and another interviewing Harry Dunn, an outspoken member of the U.S. Capitol Police.

But the opener also has spoken-word poetry (by Common), music (John Legend doing Never Break), a short film on the history of Blacks in cinema, and In the Kitchen, a weekly segment.

"That is our attempt within every show to stay on what is happening in the world that week, that day," said producer Eric Johnson. Sonny Hostin of The View moderates the Kitchen segment; the opener includes actor Sterling K. Brown (top, who also hosts that hour) and lawyer-activist Angela Rye.

In a way, this show enters the void created when public TV's Soul was canceled 48 years ago.

Soul tried to do it all – poets and pop (Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle), authors and activists (James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael), dancers, jazz musicians, and more. It stirred controversy and was canceled after five seasons.

When she was a PBS executive, Nelson pushed the development of Mr. Soul, an award-winning documentary about that show. Once she reached ABC, she created Soul of a Nation, which will have some music – Audra Day, Cynthia Erivo, and H.E.R. are coming – alongside news features.

"I'm incredibly proud to see" the PBS documentary, Nelson said. "As we look at what we're doing with Soul of a Nation, it's clear that we stand on the shoulders of incredible giants."

But this show has clear advantages over its predecessors.

They were mostly confined to a studio. This time, Imbriano said, "we are out in the field, doing very cinematic sort of short-film, documentary features."

And this show can work alongside ABC News. The Capitol Police story, Nelson said, "was an interview that the News division has been pursuing for the last couple months."

Working at ABC means having "this incredible megaphone," she said. The network had documentaries on America in Pain, the Juneteenth celebrations, and a 20/20 probe of the Breonna Taylor shooting.

For each of those, she said, more than 40 percent of the viewers were Black. "But what I always remind folks is that the majority" were White.

The same should be true of Soul of a Nation, Imbriano said. "This has Black stories, but for all people."

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Earldine Jackson
First time I knew I was black I lived with my godparents in Elmont LI in a ranch stlye home that they build on a hill with a large plot of land that was a large vegtable garden. I was playing in the yard one day when a white girl walked by and asked me if my mother worked here. I was confused by the question and said no I lived here. When I went to school on Monday everyone was talking about where I lived and how everyone knew of the big house and garden and they didn't know colored people lived there. This was 1959 maybe 1960. I had always lived in a house owned by which ever family member I was with and they always had property for a garden and rasing a few animals. I asked my godmother why they were so shocked that we lived here and she explained that our home was better then most of theirs and to them that was not the way it should be.
Apr 7, 2021   |  Reply
Serula Little
Touched by the kitchen talk on first time knowing when you were black. I was living in Salt Lake City, Utah. 1966 Sixteen years old and wanted to work. Could not get a job at any of the fast food hamburger places where everyone else was getting hired. so I decided I would volunteer as a candy stripper at the SLC General Hospital. Hired but placed in a basement area folding cotton pads with newspaper. Others would come and go that were white. I never moved and would go home every
night to wash my uniform because of the black ink from the newspapers. One day I decided to go up stairs to where patients where. To my surprise I saw the girls who had come and gone on the basement floor working pushing juice carts and reading books to the patients. This made me so angry because I knew I was the only black volunteer and they had no plans of letting me do anything but wrap pads in the basement and never come up to the second or third floors! I quit that very day!!!
Mar 3, 2021   |  Reply
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