Wednesday, January 2, 2013
The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago on January 1, 1863. He has been known as The Great Emancipator by many people ever since. But his journey to issuing that document was a long one, complete with many stops and starts, twists and turns. But for years, his approach to ending slavery favored a gradual emancipation, with freedom to the slaves given in exchange for compensation to their owners. Abolitionists, on the other hand, were people who worked, struggled, and even died to bring an immediate end to the "peculiar institution" throughout the United States. Without the efforts of these major abolitionists exerting pressure and influence on both Congress and Abraham Lincoln, the institution of slavery may have continued for many more years.
The PBS award-winning program American Experience is bringing the story of five important abolitionists in a three-part series titled "The Abolitionists" debuting on Tuesday January 8, 2013 from 9:00 - 10:00 p.m. ET and continuing on the following Tuesdays, January 15th, and January 22nd, 2013 at the same time.
These are the interconnected stories of Frederick Douglass, Angelina Grimke', John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Lloyd Garrison, each of whom actively worked and spoke out against the evils of slavery. Frederick Douglass was born and slave and escaped to freedom, eventually becoming a powerful speaker, writer, and author, one of the most eloquent in American history. Harriet Beecher Stowe fought against slavery, authoring Uncle Tom's Cabin, which caused further outrage against slavery when thousands read her book across the North. Angelina Grimke' was a daughter of privilege growing up on a plantation in South Carolina and saw the horrors of slavery first hand. She later left her family and became one of the most outspoken foes of slavery, giving lectures and writing tracts against it. William Lloyd Garrison was founder, publisher, and editor of The Liberator, the most influential of the anti-slavery newspapers throughout the North. And John Brown was unfortunately led to violence by his virulent hatred of slavery and slave-owners, eventually being executed after he and a tiny band of men stormed the Federal Arsenal in Harper's Ferry, VA in a misguided attempt to incite a slave revolt.
At various points in time during the 1840's and 1850's, the lives of these five brave individuals crossed paths, Douglass and Garrison teaming for a while, Douglass nearly becoming involved in Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, and so forth.
Abolitionists did not have the support of everyone across even the Northern states where slavery was already banned or at least mostly nonexistent. Some, including Garrison, were jailed. Others were attacked by mobs and killed in the violence. They were called agitators, radicals, troublemakers for helping to fan the flames of disunion. Their story is a fascinating one which every American should learn about.
I've had the good fortune to be sent a preview copy of the entire mini-series "The Abolitionists" courtesy of a publicity agent for PBS. I watched with rapt attention the entire documentary and it is superb, as is anything shown on American Experience. The actors who portray these five abolitionists are outstanding, and the narration is equally fine. As with any documentary, there are brief excerpts of interviews with leading historians, including David W. Blight, the Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Other historians featured are Carole Berkin, Lois Brown, Erica Armstrong Dunbar and a host of other experts on abolition, slavery, and the individual abolitionists portrayed in the mini-series.
I encourage everyone to watch "The Abolitionists". Their story must never be forgotten.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 5:26 PM