“Without the abolitionists, the Civil War would never have occurred. Without the abolitionists,” an historian explains in a voiceover in the final episode of the new PBS series of the same name, which airs this coming Tuesday, “slave owners would have turned the entire United States into slave country.” Such are the consequences and such is the contribution made by the anti-slave movement in the 30 years leading up to and into the bloodiest and most decisive conflict in American history.
This is the subject of the third and final part of The Abolitionists, director Rob Rapley’s film for PBS’s The American Experience series. More storytelling through dramatic reenactment by professional actors than traditional talking-head documentary, the project nevertheless manages to convey both the passion and the pain of these crusaders for freedom and dignity, a tireless group determined to “cleanse” the republic of the “original sin” of slavery.
That sin, which most abolitionists thought could be forgiven through persuasion and repentance, only grew more damnable during their 30 year struggle, with the slave population more than doubling between 1830 and 1860. Connecticut’s own John Brown (who was born in Torrington and educated in Litchfield) believed instead that this sin could only be expunged by blood, as he explains to Frederick Douglass in a scene depicting their meeting in a quarry outside Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a few weeks prior to Brown’s raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry.
“We are the spark that will set this country ablaze,” Brown, portrayed by T. Ryder Smith tells Douglass, as played by Richard Brooks. Brown had already lit smaller fires in “Bleeding Kansas,” where free soil advocates and slave-staters had clashed for four years, but it would be his October 1859 raid – and subsequent trial and execution – that would as he prophesized bring about a great conflagration.
Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) is airing this latest offering in The American Experience collection at 9 P.M. on Tuesday night January 22. Part one aired on January 8th and part two on January 15th (part two is being rebroadcast at 10 P.M. Sunday night, January 20th).
Brown is not the only connection to Connecticut in the series. Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose sensationalist anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the single most influential book of its age, is also featured in The Abolitionists. Stowe was born in Litchfield and ended her days in Hartford, where she founded the Hartford Art School, part of what later became the University of Hartford.
Episode three is arguably the most dramatic of the three shows in the series. It depicts the despair of Douglass, Stowe and other abolitionists who saw in the newly-elected Abraham Lincoln yet another President willing to allow slavery to continue if that was the price required to keeping the country together. Not until the night Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation did they truly believe the Black people of this nation would, as that document stated be “thenceforward and forever free.”
The PBS special chronicles, explains and dramatizes the struggle and work of the abolitionists, from Douglass and Brown to Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison, the founder of the movement, of whom Douglass eulogized as a man who, even more than the others was dedicated to “leave the world freer, better, and nobler than we found it.”
Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) will rebroadcast part two at 10 P.M. on Sunday, January 20. It will broadcast part three at 9 P.M. on Tuesday, January 22, and will repeat it on Sunday, January 27 at 10 P.M.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer and columnist. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view and pre-order what will be Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref...
To read more Examiner.com pieces by Mark G. McLaughlin become a regular subscriber; just click on the “Subscribe to get instant updates” button at the top of the page. Examiner's editors pledge that subscribers will never be spammed. Sharing articles on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks is also appreciated.