The Abolitionists

Picture featuring five abolitionists including John Brown, Frederick Douglass, William Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe

Picture advertising "The Abolitionists" PBS Series.

Fort Scott National Historic Site, in partnership with the Friends of Fort Scott National Historic Site, will present the highly acclaimed three-episode PBS American Experience film series, "The Abolitionists," on Saturday, February 22, 2014, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The showing is free to the public and shall be held in the site's Grand Hall.

Radicals. Agitators. Troublemakers. Liberators. Whatever one's definition, the abolitionists tore the nation apart in order to make a more perfect union. Men and women, black and white, Northerners and Southerners, poor and wealthy, these passionate antislavery activists fought in the most important civil rights crusade in American history.

What began as a pacifist movement became a fiery and furious struggle that forever changed the nation. The movement slowly gained momentum in the United States following Great Britain's outlawing of slavery in 1833. But it was along the Kansas-Missouri border in the mid to late 1850s where the national war of words turned violent as proslavers and abolitionists brutally fought over the future destiny of Kansas Territory as a free or slave state. The outcome was of national importance.

The series is being hosted in partnership with the Friends of Fort Scott National Historic Site, which was among a select group of organizations from across the nation chosen to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) program, Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle. Four documentaries, spanning the 1830s to the 1960s, tell remarkable stories of individuals who challenged the social and legal status quo of deeply rooted American institutions, from slavery to segregation, in the hopes of improving their lives and the lives of others. The purpose of the NEH program is to encourage communities to revisit the history of civil rights in the United States and to reflect on the ideals of freedom and equality that have helped bridge deep racial and cultural divides in our civic life.

Those who join in may find themselves outraged or inspired, but few can remain indifferent to the storylines of each documentary. What can be learned from these past struggles? What does it take to achieve real change? How can we connect our own lives and experiences with the heroic civil rights struggles of the past?

"The Abolitionists" reveal how the movement shaped American history by exposing the fatal flaw of a republic founded on liberty for some and bondage for others. In the face of personal risk, including beatings, imprisonment, even death, abolitionists held fast to their cause, laying civil rights groundwork for the future and raising weighty constitutional and moral questions that remain relevant today.

The three-part series of fifty minute episodes will be presented in sequence, with short intermissions in between, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Visitors are welcome to stay for one, two, or all three segments, and may come and go as needed.

Part One focuses on the 1830s and makes known the five principal characters of the series: Frederick Douglass, a young Maryland slave aspiring to live free; William Lloyd Garrison, whose newspaper, The Liberator, becomes a powerful voice for abolition; Angelina Grimké, daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner who becomes a persuasive anti-slavery speaker; Harriet Beecher Stowe, who witnesses the brutality of slavery during a trip through the South; and John Brown, a failed entrepreneur looking for life's purpose.

Part Two examines the growth of the abolitionist movement during the 1840s and early 1850s by following the five men and women. Among other events occurring during this time period, Douglass gains his freedom, Stowe authors Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Brown become radicalized. Attempts at compromise and resolution only deepen the political, social, and moral divide between North and South.

Part Three brings the chaos of "Bleeding Kansas" to the nation. Brown raids Harpers Ferry in the hopes of leading a slave uprising and finds martyrdom in death. Abraham Lincoln is elected president and the nation descends into civil war. New Years' Day 1863 is emancipation day for those enslaved in rebellious states and African Americans are able to enlist and fight with Union forces. The decades long abolitionist movement gains final victory with passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865, forever banning slavery in the United States.

To further encourage thought on this important civil rights crusade, a free guided discussion of "The Abolitionists," with short video excerpts from the series, will occur at Fort Scott National Historic Site on Saturday, March 1, beginning at 1:00 p.m. University of Tulsa history professor Kristen Oertel, an expert on the period and author of Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas, and Frontier Feminist: Clarina Howard Nichols and the Politics of Motherhood, will be the discussion leader. Whether or not you attend the screenings on February 22, you can still learn and be inspired by attending the discussion.

Fort Scott National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park Service. It is free to visit and is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., except some federal holidays. The Grand Hall is mobility impaired accessible.

For more information about the PBS series, click here.

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