Henry Louis Gates Jr. said there is no doubt in his mind the rise of Donald Trump as the GOP presidential candidate is about the fact that, for the past nearly eight years, there has been a black family in the White House, which has driven some people in this country to distraction.

Gates came to TCA to discuss his new PBS series Black America Since MLK: And I Still Rise, exploring the last 50 years of African American history, debuting in November.

The conceit of the series is, Gates said, if Martin Luther King came back from the great beyond and said, ‘What has happened in the time I’ve been gone?,’ what would you tell him. “There’s a black man in the White House. And he’d say, ‘That’s great – was there a revolution?’ ”

“Then he’d say, ‘How about the child poverty rate?’ Well Rev, it’s almost exactly the same as it was the day you died.” Paraphrasing Dickens, Gates said that in this country, if you’re black it’s the best of times, because of Affirmative Action, if you’re “positionality” enabled you to make it to the middle or upper middle class. If you got caught in the circle of poverty, “it’s the worst of times. We wanted to account for both realities,” he said.

Gates said it was a “funny story” how he conceived of the series, explaining he went to see a friend of his who is CEO of American Express, Kenneth Chenault. When you get 45 minutes with Chenault it’s a “very valuable thing,” Gates boasted. Seems Gates gave Chenault a list of 10 ideas for Gates’ next PBS project, seeking his guidance. Chenault looked at the list, Gates said, and said they were good ideas but that the most important idea was not on the list. “What’s that?” Gates said he asked. “He said, the last 50 years of history.”

Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

PBS 'Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise' Panel at the TCA Summer Press Tour - Day 2, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Jul 2016
REX/Shutterstock

Among the panelists today on the PBS panel was Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson. One TV critic asked panelists their thoughts about the pushback to that movement.

“I’m surprised at the pushback. It’s such a simple, catchy phrase, but it has disturbed some people,” Gates said. “The ‘too’ word is implied: Black Lives Matter Too. For so long in this country, black lives didn’t matter at all, or not as much as other people’s lives,” he told TV critics and reporters.

Mckesson called the slogan a “simple truth,” calling it “the right name” for the movement and that people should not be afraid of it.

“I’m old school, so like to listen to new-school younger generation who came up with it,” chimed in panelist Cornel West, saying his generation came up with “civil rights” and “black power.”

“What I like is it’s not a political slogan; it’s a humanistic slogan,” West said. “You get this humanistic statement, but people say it’s exclusionary. It’s not.”