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The Characters in The Abolitionists

December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

December 21, 2012 4:32 p.m.

When we first began the task of tackling the history of abolitionism four years ago, we were faced with a daunting task: the movement spanned decades, the leaders were numerous, the history complicated and the scholarly literature voluminous. And yet there was no book that told the overarching story of the abolitionists, and no guide for capturing the courage and struggles of these remarkable civil rights heroes. We decided that the way to grab the attention of a broad television audience was to focus on a handful of key characters — that is, to create a character-driven mini-series set against the backdrop of a tumultuous time in American history.

Initially we chose to focus solely on the intertwined stories of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, largely because they are the best-known abolitionists and among the most important. The two men — one a former slave, the other an impoverished printer — are among the greatest civil rights activists in American history. They opened the eyes of thousands and put their families at risk to erase the sin of slavery. They had tremendous respect for each other and stood together for many years before, sadly, having a bitter falling out. Though they never fully reconciled, the ties between the two ran deep. When Garrison died, Douglass wrote a eulogy of his former mentor that was transcendent and profoundly moving.

The relationship between Douglass and Garrison forms the backbone of our mini-series. As historian John Stauffer points out, “To see how their two lives both evolve for awhile in parallel and then diverge and eventually converge again is a way to frame the broader themes of the abolitionist movement. It shows the movement’s internal debate over fighting slavery through the political process, which Garrison rejected and Douglass came to embrace. It covers Garrison’s pacifism and Douglass’ advocacy of revolutionary violence. It shows both men’s huge embrace of feminism. So focusing on these two men is an ideal way, in my view, to frame the entire abolition movement.”

Although the film was originally conceived as a dual biography, over time we realized that structure didn’t fully recognize the tremendous contribution of women to the antislavery cause. The abolitionist movement succeeded in large part because of women who spoke out publicly against slavery — a role many people, including some in the movement, considered unseemly and provocative.

We chose to feature …read more
Source: PBS