February is Black History Month, which means that all sorts of television channels are trotting out all sorts of programs aimed at teaching Americans about their black heritage. Sometimes it's worthwhile, sometimes it's trite, but it's certainly plentiful.
Here are a few highlights:
* Many Americans probably never knew Black Entertainment Television existed until it snared O. J. Simpson last month for his first post-trial interview, but it's been on the airwaves for years. What better place to commemorate Black History Month?
Three programs stand out: "The Making of 'Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored,' " airing 6:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Thursday, offers a look at the new film from director Tim Reid about growing up in the South; "Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad," 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 19, is a repeat broadcast of a BET original film (co-produced with the Family Channel and United Image Entertainment) telling the story of two young slaves making their way to Canada in the 1850s; and "The Black Caricature," 9 p.m.-10 p.m. Feb. 21, examines the black image in movies, literature and music.
* MPT (channels 22 and 67) is concentrating much of its black history programming at the end of the month.
"Mississippi, America" -- an hourlong documentary about Freedom Summer, those months in 1964 when a coalition of black and white Americans headed South to help African-Americans in Mississippi exercise their right to vote -- airs at 10 p.m. Feb. 20. The film is narrated by actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.
That same night at 11, "Black Is Black Ain't" examines racism, sexism and homophobia within the black community.
The next night at 11, MPT will air "Nothing But a Man," a 1964 film starring Ivan Dixon (best remembered -- unfortunately -- as one of the prisoners in "Hogan's Heroes"). The rarely-seen film, which deals with racial oppression and the responsibilities of adulthood, was rediscovered to much critical acclaim a few years ago.
For black history with a local twist, watch "Maryland Connections," airing 8 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Feb. 29. The show will feature profiles of Levi Watkins Jr., the first African-American dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Enolia McMillan, first female president of the NAACP, and Sam Lacy, sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-America and a key figure in the careers of dozens of black athletes, including Jackie Robinson.
* The Nostalgia Channel, which Comcast Cable subscribers in Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties are lucky enough to get, is showing four classics of the African-American cinema.
"The Jackie Robinson Story," an enjoyable film biography starring Jackie Robinson himself that only hints at the turmoil he had to endure as the first African-American in the major leagues, airs 1 a.m.-3 a.m. Feb. 11; "Hi De Ho," with Cab Calloway as a band leader who gets caught between rival nightclub owners, will be shown 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 9 and 1 a.m.-3 a.m. Feb. 18; "Harlem is Heaven," the first film to feature Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, can be seen 1 a.m.-3 a.m. tonight and 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 23; and "Jericho," starring Paul Robeson, airs 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 16 and 1 a.m.-3 a.m. Feb. 25.
* Turner Classic Movies isn't widely available in these parts, but if you're one of the lucky few with a cable system together enough to carry it, you'll be able to enjoy an evening of Lena Horne movies Tuesday (beginning at 7 p.m. and including "Panama Hattie," "Cabin in the Sky," "Swing Fever," "I Dood It!" "Broadway Rhythm" and "The Duchess of Idaho"); a tribute to Sidney Poitier Feb. 20 (beginning at 7 p.m. and featuring "Edge of the City," "Something of Value," "A Patch of Blue," "Pressure Point" and "Duel at Diablo"); and a slate of rarely seen movies produced in the '30s and '40s with all-black casts and geared specifically to black audiences.
These "race films," which will air starting at 7 p.m. Feb. 27, include 1935's "Murder in Harlem," 1949's "Souls of Sin," 1941's "Blood of Jesus," 1947's "Juke Joint" and 1946's "Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A."
Jennifer Lawson, the former head of programming and promotion for PBS, will be a consultant to Maryland Public Television for the next six months under a contract announced Monday by MPT.
Ms. Lawson, who left her post last year as PBS President Ervin Duggan launched several new national programming initiatives, will advise MPT on international and national productions.
MPT also announced that John Potthast, who has worked in various production capacities there for the past 21 years, has been named interim director of national/international productions.