Black History Month: '4 Little Girls,' 'Good Hair' and other docs to watch

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Black History Month annually remembers and celebrates the rich, often painful, experience of African-Americans in this country since its founding: their trials, tribulations and integral contributions in every area of life. 

That history is not a monolith, as evident in these nine documentaries and films, which cover key moments from the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras -- and beyond. They are available to rent or stream online or through the mail where noted.

But this is only a sampling. Share your choices with us in the comments.

  • "4 Little Girls": Spike Lee's 1997 documentary traces the events leading up to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963, which killed four girls, ages 11 and 14, as well as its aftermath, including the prosecution and conviction of several KKK members for the attack. Available to rent online: on Google Play and iTunes.
  • "The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975": Drawing from found footage discovered decades after it was shot, this 2011 documentary retells the early history of the Black Power Movement. With commentary from Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and more. Available to rent online: on iTunes.
  • "Unforgivable Blackness": Jack Johnson was the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion -- born at the start of the 20th century, in Texas, years before the breakthrough of the Civil Rights movement. Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns explores Johnson's rise and fall; and his indomitable strength. Available to rent: through Netflix.
  • "Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock": This 2010 PBS film tells the story of Bates, who as head of the Arkansas state NAACP "galvanized" the Civil Rights movement in the '50s, including working to desegregate Central High School.
  • "The Murder of Emmett Till, "Freedom Riders" and "Freedom Summer": All part of PBS' "American Experience" series, these documentaries explore -- respectively -- the murder of a 14-year-old boy allegedly seen "flirting" with a white woman, and the work of activists who, for six months, rode together on buses and trains to protest Jim Crow laws in 1961 and another effort in 1964.
  • "For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots": Over two parts and four hours, this documentary uncovers the contributions of black men and women to the American armed services since the nation's independence.
  • "King: A Filmed Record From Montgomery to Memphis": This 1970 documentary, directed by Hollywood legends Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, compiles newsreel footage and other primary documents, with narration from James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and others, to highlight Martin Luther King's historic role in the Civil Rights movement, from the Montgomery bus boycott to his 1968 assassination. Available to stream: on Sundance Now.
  • "Ghosts of Ole Miss": The same fall that the University of Mississippi finally integrated -- under scrutiny from the federal government -- its football team began its only undfeated season. ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series explores the intersection of these two previously unthinkable events as they happen simultaneously. Available to stream: on iTunes.
  • "Good Hair": Chris Rock directs and narrates this 2009 documentary about how African-American women have historically styled their hair -- and how that conversation (what is "good hair"?) has itself changed over time. Available to stream: on iTunes and Amazon.