Saturday, February 11, 2006

Slavery and the Making of America

Several of my reviews have involved books about slavery. It is not an issue that goes away. 140 years after it was declared illegal, we are still recovering from the harm it brought our country. The institution still survives in some third world countries, especially in the Sudan. Read Slave by Mende Nazer and Escape from Slavery by Francis Bok. Recently, news articles suggest that Asians have been enslaved to work for contractors at U.S. miltary bases in Iraq. We can not afford to forget and let down our guard.

It is in this light that I recommend viewing the four part PBS series Slavery and the Making of America, which follows the institution in the United States from its origins in early colonial days to the end of the nineteenth century. Viewers who have not studied the subject may be surprised to learn that all the states, including the northern states, had slavery at the time of the Revolution, and northern business interests supported the continuation of the institution in the South past the time it disappeared in the North. Slavery was a national problem, not a regional issue.

I was especially moved by episode three "Seeds of Destruction," which included the story of Harriet Jacobs, who hid in an attic for over a dozen years to escape the sexual advances of her owner and to allow her children to be free. All the episodes included dramatic reenactments, often in original locations. Noted historians provided comments. The series was narrated by actor Morgan Freeman.

PBS has an extensive website with information about the program and the topic.

Many libraries have the book on which the series was based. They should add the DVDs as well.

Slavery and the Making of America. New York: Ambrose Video, 2004.

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