Slavery and the Making of America

Slavery and the Making of America is a four-part public television series premiering on Wednesday, February 9 at 9:00PM EST, on PBS. Check your local listings for channel and time.

Making use of recent scholarship and narrated by Morgan Freeman, Slavery and Making of America tells the broad story of American slavery in large part through the lives of individual enslaved men, women and children. The four one-hour programs include:

Program 1: The Downward Spiral (Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 9-10 pm EST on PBS)
In 1619, 20 Africans were delivered to the English colony of Virginia. A few years later 11 more Africans were brought by the Dutch who ran the colony of New Amsterdam. Thus began one of the most tragic and misunderstood chapters in American history. Through the lives of Anthony Portuguese, John Punch, Emmanuel Driggus, Frances Driggus, and several others, this hour tells the complicated story of the establishment of slavery in America, the transition from indentured servitude and “half freedom” to African and African-American enslavement for life, the brief but bloody Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina, and the establishment of the “Black Codes,” regulating virtually every aspect of slave life.

Program 2: Freedom is in the Air (Wednesday, February 9, 2005, 10-11 pm EST on PBS)
From 1740 to 1830, slavery became an indispensable feature of the American economic landscape and spread throughout the colonies, eventually taking deepest root in the new territories of the Deep South, created in 1803 by the Louisiana Purchase. At the same time slavery spread, the enslaved found some inspiration in a diverse group of sources, including the wording of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; the Bibles shared with them as they were “Christianized;” and David Walker’s landmark missive Appeal to the Colored People of the World, one of the first expressions of black nationalism and activism. The stories of Jupiter, a slave owned by Thomas Jefferson’s family, the revolutionary Colonel Tye, and abolitionist leader Mariah Stewart are also told, among others.

Program 3: Seeds of Destruction (Wednesday, February 16, 2005, 9-10 pm EST on PBS)
“Slavery was not a side show in American history,” says Dr. James Horton of George Washington University; “It was the main event.” Slavery’s economic clout transformed the nation in the first half of the 19th century, and with the money came political clout as well. For 50 of the 72 years between the election of George Washington and the election of Abraham Lincoln, a slave-owner occupied the White House. The story of this hour—a story of often unendurable conditions for the enslaved and a widening rift between North and South—is told in part through the lives of Harriet Jacobs, who hid for seven years in a tiny garret before escaping to the North, and Louis Hughes, sold South at the age of eleven.

Program 4: The Challenge of Freedom (Wednesday, February 16, 2005, 10-11 pm EST on PBS)
African Americans played prominent roles in the Civil War, pressed into service on the Confederate side and fighting enthusiastically for their freedom in the uniforms of the Union. But, when freedom came, what did it mean? How were the promises of the Emancipation Proclamation kept or abandoned? This complex story is told in part through the extraordinary life of Robert Smalls, born into slavery, who hijacked a Confederate ship in Charleston Harbor and presented it to the Union Navy, and who went on to serve in the South Carolina legislature and to purchase the house in which his mother had been enslaved.

By focusing on enslaved individuals, the series presents a new and vivid look at the institution of American slavery. The four hours make it clear that slavery was essential to virtually every aspect of the creation of our nation. These programs will change the way your students look at this vitally important aspect of American history. A companion book by Dr. James Horton was published this fall by Oxford University Press.

Underwritten by New York Life Insurance Company, the Slavery and the Making of America series is part of a broader New York Life educational initiative including the Slavery in America Web site. The series is produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, which also produced The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.

Now Available from Oxford University Press!
The companion volume to the series “Slavery and the Making of America” by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton

The companion volume to the epic PBS series offers a richly illustrated, vividly written history that illuminates the human side of this inhumane institution, presenting it largely through stories of the slaves themselves. Readers will discover a wide ranging and sharply nuanced look at American slavery, from the first Africans brought to British colonies in the early seventeenth century to the end of Reconstruction. Along the way, readers meet extraordinary individuals, enslaved and free, whose contributions to the building of America are only now beginning to be appreciated. With more than one hundred illustrations, Slavery and the Making of America is a gripping account of the struggles of African Americans against the iniquity of slavery.

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