Walter Ray Watson

At the turn of the 20th Century, millions of African Americans moved from the rural South to the country's Northern cities in search of a new beginning. That time of discovery, awakening and Renaissance came to be known as The Great Migration.

Twenty-three-year-old jazz pianist James Francies has his musical fingerprints all over the place. From leading his own group at 2019'sWinter Jazzfest in New York City to playing shows in Tokyo with guitar legend Pat Metheny, the current pace of Francies's life is constantly in motion.

"It just feels like you're on a plane," Francies says. "Four thousand feet, traveling six hundred miles an hour."

Last fall, Blue Note Records released Flight, Francies's debut album.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

In 2018, NPR looked back on how events from 50 years ago — the pivotal year of 1968 — shaped our current world. In our "1968: How We Got Here" series, NPR's National Desk and reporters from across the newsroom examined more than 40 events, ideas and movements from that year and sought out to answer a simple question: How did each of those get us to where we are today?

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET on Nov. 16

Shirley Chisholm's celebrated win on election night, Nov. 5, 1968, still resonates with today's election cycle, 50 years later. She became the first black woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the years, her victory is often cited as inspiration for women running for public office.

This election season has been nicknamed "The Year of the Woman" because a record number of women have run and won seats in national and statewide races.

Campaign gets little attention

Fifty years ago, photographer and folklorist Roland Freeman hitched his hopes to a humble caravan of mule-driven wagons. The Mule Train left the small town of Marks, in the Mississippi Delta, for Washington, D.C. It was part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last major effort to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

Rare glimpses of black soldiers from the Civil War come into view, their presence asking nothing more than to be remembered, if not celebrated. The documentary film Through A Lens Darkly draws audiences deep into a world of black photography, and will broadcast Monday on the PBS program Independent Lens.

A rare, untitled 1913 silent film is the subject of a new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibit, 100 Years In Post-Production: Resurrecting A Lost Landmark of Black Film History, tells the story behind the silent film's production.

The film features Bert Williams, one of the era's famed black entertainers and the first black Broadway star. He performed in blackface on the stage, and does the same in this film, a romantic comedy with a large black cast of actors.