About the Series
Africans in America is a six-hour public television series that explores the paradox at the heart of our national narrative: a democracy based on the claim that all men were created equal, while using the enslavement and oppression of one people to provide independence and prosperity for another. From the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 to the start of the Civil War in 1861, the series examines how Africans and Europeans created a new nation, even as they bitterly struggled over the very meaning of freedom. These programs also illuminate the critical role of Africans and African Americans, slave and free, in challenging the United States to continually re-evaluate the meaning of its founding documents and its commitment to freedom.
A television series that looks at our common history in this new way is long overdue. The stories of conflict, challenge, and transformation convey a powerful and important story. And no one can properly understand the divisive power of race in our present time without first recognizing how current racial tensions are rooted in the heritage of our shared past.
Our nation's story has the potential to illuminate, to inspire, to heal. It can spark discussions among youth and others about what it means to be a leader, participate in social change, and form "a more perfect union." It can also inform ongoing dialogue around issues of race and identity, and what it means to be an American. This series does not attempt to replace old myths with new ones. By providing a clearer view of our shared past it can help us create a better future.
Africans in America is made up of four 90-minute programs.
Note: Program titles may change. Program One:
The Terrible Transformation
(1607-1750) The first program tells of the largest forced migration in recorded history and how this mass movement of people was instrumental in the creation of the new nation. After establishing settlements in North America, England joins Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands in the international trade in human beings. In the colonies, Europeans rely on Africans' skills and labor to transform vast lands into agricultural profits.
But European masters fear this growing population of Africans upon whom they now depend. Slavery's inhumane codes and punishments spur African resistance and escape. Colonists have found profits and permanence in their New World, but at what cost?
While the American colonies challenge Britain for independence, American slavery is challenged from within. The British Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, promises freedom to slaves who will fight for England. George Washington eventually concedes to do the same in order to increase the number of soldiers who will fight for America. Black people, both slave and free, seize on the language of natural rights and equality that is rising throughout the land. But after the war is won, the nation's Constitution codifies slavery and oppression as a way of life.
As free black people and fugitive slaves seek full participation in American democracy, a new black leadership emerges, centered in the black church in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The threat of rebellion and the surplus of slaves in the East lead to the rise of a colonization movement, led by slaveholders, to send free black people to Africa, creating a rigorous debate within the black community. But despite intensified brutality in the South and often unwelcome conditions in the North, African Americans resoundingly vote to stay and fight for freedom.
As the nation expands west, so does slavery. Black abolitionists agitate against southern slavery and northern racism. Southern states angrily threaten to leave the union. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, a last attempt at political compromise, trades away black rights to keep the nation united. Even so, fighting breaks out in Kansas, and in 1857, the Supreme Court formally obliterates black rights with the Dred Scott decision. Slaveholders call for reopening the Atlantic slave trade and abolitionists mount new tactics against slavecatchers as the country moves toward civil war.
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