Radicals. Agitators. Troublemakers. Liberators. Called by many names, the abolitionists tore the nation apart in order to create 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. It 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.
First broadcast in 2013, The Abolitionistswill have an encore play of Parts One and Two on Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 8-10pm and Part Three on Tuesday, July 14, 8pm on ThinkTV16 and CET.
Part One: 1820s – 1838
Shared beliefs about slavery bring together Angelina Grimke, the daughter of a Charleston plantation family, who moves north and becomes a public speaker against slavery; Frederick Douglass, a young slave who becomes hopeful when he hears about the abolitionists; William Lloyd Garrison, who founds the newspaper The Liberator, a powerful voice for the movement; Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose first trip to the South changes her life and her writing; and John Brown, who devotes his life to the cause. The abolitionist movement, however, is in disarray and increasing violence raises doubts about the efficacy of its pacifist tactics.
Part Two: 1838 – 1854
Douglass escapes slavery, eventually joining Garrison in the anti-slavery movement. Threatened with capture by his former owner, Douglass flees to England, returning to the U.S. in 1847. He launches his own anti-slavery paper. John Brown meets with Douglass, revealing his radical plan to raise an army, attack plantations and free the slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. A best-seller, and then wildly successful stage play, this influential novel changes the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. The divide between North and South deepens, touching off a crisis that is about to careen out of control.
Part Three: 1854 – Emancipation
The battle between pro-slavery and free-soil contingents rises to fever pitch. During his raid on Harpers Ferry, John Brown is captured, then executed, becoming a martyr for the cause. Abraham Lincoln is elected president in 1860. Southern states secede, war breaks out and the conflict unexpectedly drags on. On New Year's Day 1863, it is announced that Lincoln has emancipated the slaves in rebel territory. African-American men may now enlist in the Union forces; two of Douglass' sons go to war. In December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment is ratified, banning slavery in all states - forever.