Henry Louis Gates, Jr. attends 'The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross' New York Series Premiere at the Paris Theater on October 16, 2013 in New York City

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. attends ‘The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross’ New York Series Premiere at the Paris Theater on October 16, 2013 in New York City

*The history of blacks in the United States does not start in 1620 with the arrival of the first 20 Africans in Jamestown.

The first African to come to North America was not a slave, but a free black man born in 1480 in West Africa. His name was Juan Garrido.

“He traveled as a freeman to Portugal and Spain, and then he accompanied Ponce de León, remember him? We all studied about him in elementary school because he was in search for the fountain of youth. Well, guess what? He had a brother with him who was looking to stay young forever, just like the white man from Spain, said noted historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates, who tells the entire story and much more in the PBS series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.”

The six episode series examines 500 years of African American history, starting in the year 1513 and ending exactly 500 years later with Barack Obama’s reelection.

In the hourlong episode 1, premiering tonight (Oct. 22) at 8 p.m., “we situate the African American story within the larger story first of American history, but also of black Atlantic history as well, showing connections between what happened in our country with what happened in Haiti, in Cuba, in Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Then we tell the story of the Africans who came as slaves after Juan Garrido.”

Below, Dr. Gates says this series isn’t the story of “American Bandstand,” it’s the story of “Soul Train.”

“What we tried to do was to create a history for a new generation, a generation that never watched ‘Roots,’ never watched ‘Eyes on the Prize’,” he said.

Listen below.

“African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” begins Oct. 22 and runs Tuesdays from 8 to 9 p.m. through Nov. 26 on PBS. Watch a series preview, followed by a preview of episode 1 below.