Monday, January 7, 2013

PBS American Experience - The Abolitionists - Part I - A Review

"I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD." - William Lloyd Garrison - The Liberator - Vol. 1, No. 1 - January 1, 1831

A few months ago, I had the great privilege of receiving an advance DVD of the PBS American Experience special, "Death and the Civil War." The program was EXCELLENT.  You can read my summary and review here.

Recently I received advance DVD copies of a new special from American Experience: The Abolitionists, a 3-part series to premier on Tuesdays, January 8, 15, and 22, 2013.


A synopsis of the special from the official website:

Radicals. Agitators. Troublemakers. Liberators. Called by many names, the abolitionists tore the nation apart in order to make a more perfect union. Men and women, black and white, Northerners and Southerners, poor and wealthy, these passionate anti-slavery activists fought body and soul in the most important civil rights crusade in American history. What began as a pacifist movement fueled by persuasion and prayer became a fiery and furious struggle that forever changed the nation.

Bringing to life the intertwined stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown, The Abolitionists takes place during some of the most violent and contentious decades in American history, amid white-hot religious passions that set souls on fire, and bitter debates over the meaning of the Constitution and the nature of race. The documentary reveals how the movement shaped history by exposing the fatal flaw of a republic founded on liberty for some and bondage for others, setting the nation on a collision course. In the face of personal risks -- beatings, imprisonment, even death -- abolitionists held fast to their cause, laying the civil rights groundwork for the future and raising weighty constitutional and moral questions that are with us still.

You can view a preview of the special here:

I have watched the first episode and HIGHLY RECOMMEND this series!

Part I introduces viewers to several main "characters": Frederick Douglass, Angelina Grinmke, Harriet Beecher Stowe (briefly), John Brown (briefly), and - especially - William Lloyd Garrison.

In fact, the production shares some aspects in common with "Death and the Civil War" and yet improved:

  • Oliver Platt once again delivers a solemn and clear narration
  • The artifacts/visuals that are shown are excellent
  • The commentary by the "talking heads" is even better (and less over-wrought) than in Death/Civil War, with excellent contributions by David W. Blight (who was excellent in Death/Civil War as well), Manisha Sinha, and several others
  • The production is made all the better by wonderful characterizations (by professional actors) of the main characters.

In addition to introducing us to the main "players" and seminal events such as the Nat Turner Rebellion, the founding of The Liberator and the American Anti-Slavery Society, and the firsthand experience of Frederick Douglass as a slave, the first episode makes several important points:

1) how very radical the abolitionists, led by Garrison especially, were in going past the previous movements for recolonization or gradual emancipation, to advocating immediate abolition.

2) the real risks of physical danger, even death, that the abolitionists faced in their cause

3) the Abolitionists' concept of America as an "Empire of Sin" owing to slavery and how the country would need to be re-made

4) the early connections between the Abolitionist movement and the woman's suffrage movement

I can't wait to watch the following episodes and will provide additional reviews in the coming weeks.


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