WORLD Channel, in partnership with PBS' Independent Lens, presents a new animated musical series about America's reckoning with race and injustice. The History Of White People In America takes the audience on a journey through American history, starting in the 17th century, and in particular looks at how the crafting of the idea of the white race — of whiteness — helped shape the nation's history, designating other groups for subjugation and having wide-ranging ramifications on social class and life experience that exists to this day.

In Episode 3, "How America Made Skin Color Power," an animated President Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and one of their five children share illuminating insights on how skin became color, color became race, and race became power. In just a few short minutes, it captures the truth of what it means to be "American," and why our racial history deserves further contemplation.

I spoke with director/musician Pierce Freelon to learn more about creating the series and how he and his mother, Nnenna Freelon — the legendary jazz singer and six-time Grammy Award nominee — worked together to play Sally Hemings and her son, Eston; an experience that, for several reasons, became sacred and daunting for them.

How did you decide on these specific moments in history for the series?

Pierce Freelon: The story of Sally Hemings is important because the voices of Black women are often silenced in HIStory. Jefferson was a wealthy white man — so we have access to his thoughts, papers, ideas, and values — but we don't often hear the voices of the enslaved folks. Telling the story of Sally Hemings and her son with Jefferson, Eston Hemings, was an intentional attempt to center the voices of important Americans who have been marginalized and silenced by historians and biographers. There are many other stories left to cover in the series: eugenics, confederate monuments, immortal cells, assimilation, and reparations are all on my mind when I think about the History of White People in America.

How do you balance the noble "Founding Father" narrative around Thomas Jefferson with the facts of his life, as shown in this episode?

Pierce: I didn't feel a need to perpetuate the narrative that Thomas Jefferson was a noble man. He was an aged white man who had children with a Black teenage girl, whom he had enslaved since birth. There were obvious contradictions between his rhetoric about Black people and his actions towards them. He was a complicated man. He was an eloquent writer. He was a powerful "Founding Father." But I would not call him noble. I reserve Harriet Tubman was noble.

The music in these episodes is incredible. What made you decide to use that as a focus?

Pierce: Thank you! Music is powerful. When journalist Ida B. Wells exposed the ruthless practice of mass lynchings of Black folks in the south, it sent shockwaves through the American psyche. Her storytelling was amplified by musicians such as Billie Holiday, whose song "Strange Fruit" (adapted by a poem by Abel Meeropol) helped expose ritual violence against Black bodies and fueled an anti-lynching movement in this country. Music opens portals of feeling and creativity, which are important for us to begin to process complicated structures such as white supremacy. With this series, I hope to stand in the legacy of storytellers such as Billie Holiday, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Gil Scott Heron, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, and Tupac Shakur and use music as a tool to transform the way we look at systems of oppression.

Is there anything else you want the audience to think about as they watch the series?

Pierce: Working on The History of White People in America with my mother, Nnenna Freelon, was very powerful. As mother and son, we did our best to honor Sally Hemings and her son Eston in this episode. Embodying their voices was a sacred and daunting experience. We both had weird dreams and powerful conversations throughout this collaboration. While we were working on this episode, my father, Phil Freelon, was suffering from a disease called ALS. He died on July 9th, 2019. Phil was the lead architect of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and has designed more Black museums than any other architect in this country. He was so excited that mom and I were involved in this project — using our music raise to teach people about American history and raise up the voices and stories of our ancestors. I think it's special that the series is finally airing publically on the one-year anniversary of his death, and just wanted to take this opportunity to thank him for the wonderful legacy he left our family and all Americans. Love you, Dad!

You can watch the full series The History Of White People In America, on here and on WORLD Channel's YouTube.