Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Documentary Review: The Abolitionists

Abolitionist allies Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown and Angelina Grimké turned a despised fringe movement against chattel slavery into a force that literally changed the nation.

So the watcher is introduces to the PBS documentary, "The Abolitionists."

The narratives are carefully written; the performances are powerful in their loyalty to the history.

The questions we have looking back at the slavery question are enunciated clearly in this documentary, whether it be the Southern Belle with a conscience; the young Northern writer who was haunted by the broken families. Or the young mother mourning a loss and identifying with the young black mothers; the little black boy who grew eloquence and voice for all time. The man willing to set the world on fire (and sacrifice his own sons) for his beliefs. The story is carefully and honestly told. No one is perfect, but each was compelled by a mighty sense of purpose and outrage.

The murky darkness of the United States at that time grows increasingly dense in this story. By the Dred Scott case, it is unimaginable that slavery will ever end. I was profoundly impressed that the abolitionists proceeded with their call despite the overwhelming catastrophes of their cause. It was a complete example of  "It's always darkest before the dawn."

The dawn was a very, very long time breaking. How incomprehensible to expect to survive the Civil War with the abolition of slavery. It required Holy Stubbornness.

We have the privilege of perspective. All the way through Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, many victories both small and great. But to be in the US before Lincoln--that truly demonstrated the audacity of hope for abolition of slavery.

This is an intense documentary. I recommend for secondary kids, but prepare the middle schoolers carefully.

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