This marks the start of Black History Month, and also the month in 1941 when Richard Wright published 12 Million Black Voices, his photo essay on black life and history. A collaboration with photographers of the Farm Security Administration, the book showed in almost cinematic sweep the journey that African Americans had made from Africa through slavery to the 20th century.
As novelist David Bradley says in his interview for Soul of a People: Writing America's Story, Wright pored over the FSA photographs, armed with the history he had gathered, and found inspiration: "So he's looking at these pictures, and he's seeing himself. He's seeing his own experience, he's seeing alter egos, he's seeing where he might have ended up..."
For Black History Month, Smithsonian Networks will rebroadcast the film, starting February 2.