Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the importance of the docuseries, 'The Black Church'

The historian also looks back on how people will remember 2020.
8:04 | 02/16/21

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Transcript for Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the importance of the docuseries, 'The Black Church'
That's why Always absorbs faster. One of the brilliant people on the planet and he has this amazing new book which I have been listening to and he's just extraordinary and the new documentary and the book "The black church" has never been more timely. We're joined by the historian the magnificent man, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Hey, welcome to "The view." Thank you. It's nice to be back. Before you say anything, I want to give it up for congresswoman Plaskett. My good, she was amazing. Yes, she is. Yes, she is. Yeah. Spectacular. Talking about -- Say what now? You're talking about wonder woman, she was wonder woman. She's my hero. I want to do her roots. Well, we'll let her know that. We'll reach out and hook y'all up. You spent your career exmroirg stories about the life of black folks and you say the story of the black church is the most important one, now why is that? Well, whoopi, the black church, if you think about, is the oldest, the most continuous and the most important institution created in the history of black America, think about it, it's the birthplace and nurturing ground for our social, cultural, educational, business and political institutions, the key things that define black America, take something even like 48 acres and a mule and you like to joke, your family got 40 acres and a mule down in Florida, 110 acres from homestead act and the whole idea, people don't realize that the whole idea of 40 acres and a mule came from a meeting between general Sherman in Savannah with 20 black religious leaders, either ministers, they gave him that idea. The whole history of the fight against slavery, the fight against Jim crow, and the fight against segregation, the civil rights movement was centered on the black church, without the black church there would be no civil rights movement and frankly, without the black church there would be no Joe Biden and kamala Harris in the white house and if I were Joe Biden I would worship at the black church every Sunday. And we could trace this from reinstruction when -- of the 16 black men elected to congress, three were black ministers and of the 2,000 black men elected or appointed to office during reconstruction, take it all of the way to the election of is senator Ralph Warnock. Now, you've said that this was the perfect time for your book and series on the black church to come out, why do you think that? Sara, when we started making this two years ago we had no idea that the planet would be under siege by an invisible enemy, a virus that no one had even heard of, and, plus, the threat of -- I'm trying to look for a polite word, the potential fascist leadership of the re-election of Donald Trump. We faced the twin pandemics of covid, which has been colorized because people of color have suffered disproportionately under covid and the rise of white supremacy, the anti-black racism that reared its ugly head, culminating with the insurrection at the capitol on January 6th. What better time for the stories of grace and resilience, struggle and redemption, hope and healing, that characterized the history of the black church and the history of our people in this country. It was the black church that -- I have to -- I'm sorry. I was just going to -- I could listen to forever. I just wanted to say this documentary absolutely incredible. I cried throughout many parts in it and you're right, the black church really is everything to our community, you know, this past year we witnessed a racial reckoning in this country with black lives matter protests, becoming really one of the biggest movements the country has seen in quite some time and it culminated with an insurrection with white supremacists storming the can capitol. When we look back on this year, how will we remember it? We'll remember it as we came close to disaster, in terms of race relations in the history of the United States, and world disaster in terms of the health of the human community, if that vaccine had not been developed so quickly, think about how many more millions of people would have died. It's a miracle that we can take the vaccine and I'm getting dose number two next Saturday myself and I think it's a miracle that we turn back the forces of white supremacy that trying to roll back all the gains that we made in race relations in this country since the civil rights movement. Dr. Gates, you mentioned the vaccine, president Biden has ordered 200 million more vaccines to be distributed across the country but there's still so much distrust especially in the black community about this vaccine being safe. You told the nih that you'd volunteer to get the vaccine publicly, why was that important to you. It was important to me because so many black and brown people are disproportionately affected by the virus and by mortality from the virus and black people have a very problematic role to the history of science and medicine, most famously the tuskegee syphillis experience. Allowing them to suffer just to see the long-term effects that's horrible. That's immoral. Black people are reluctant to go to the doctor. Our people go to the doctor only at the last minute. Look, look at the devastating race of prostate cancer, black men won't go to be tested something that can be treated early, I wrote the column, and I said, if I could be of help just let me know and so we have done a public service announcement, we recorded it and I volunteered to take the vaccine publicly. I'm pleased to say it didn't hurt. And I'm looking forward to getting the second dose. Let's get together and do another public service because I haven't gotten mine. And then we'll talk about men checking their prostate. That's a good idea and the book is brilliant. The book is "The black church." It's out today. You can hear it on audible. Pick it up. It premieres tonight on pbs.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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