With 139 years separating us from the official end of slavery, the oppression that marked the first two centuries of American history may seem simply like an ugly, but ancient, chapter from our school books. But from the village that would one day become Manhattan to the small tobacco farms of British Virginia, from the sweltering fields of lucrative Carolina plantations to the construction sites of icons like the U.S. Capitol, it was millions of enslaved men, women and children who turned a barely charted territory with a shaky future into one of the strongest and richest nations in the world. "Slavery was no side show in American history--it was the main event," says historian James Horton.
Premiering on PBS Wednesdays, Feb. 9 & 16, 911 p.m., Thirteen/WNET New York's groundbreaking four-part series "Slavery and the Making of America" chronicles the institution of American slavery from its origins in 1619--when English settlers in Virginia purchased 20 Africans from Dutch traders through the arrival of the first 11 slaves in New Amsterdam, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the adoption of the 13th Amendment and Reconstruction. With such unprecedented breadth comes entirely new perspectives on and facts about slavery. These new perspectives challenge many long-held notions (such as the idea that slavery was strictly a Southern institution; it was, in fact, a national institution) and highlight the contradictions of a country that was founded on the principle of "liberty and justice for all" but embraced slavery.
"Slavery and the Making of America" delves beyond the concept of slavery as a whole to focus on the remarkable stories of individual slaves, demonstrating that these Africans and African Americans were not passive victims but survivors who refused to concede their culture, character or spirit to the system that persecuted them. Over the last decade, leading scholars have unearthed a wealth of information that affirms and substantiates slavery's integral role in the development and growth of the United States.
"Slavery and the Making of America'" presents American slavery as evolving from a loosely defined labor system in which Africans and later African Americans could take matters to court and own property into the tightly regulated enslavement of individuals based solely on race. The series underscores the integral role slavery played in the growth of this country's Southern and Northern states; the fact that slaves were not a monolithic group but, rather, individuals who came from many different cultures and were empowered by their backgrounds to navigate the environment into which they were thrust; and that they sought freedom in many ways, from joining the ranks of the British during the American Revolution to running off to Canada or joining rebel communities. …