Grim chapter revisited

Not all American experiences conjure up warm memories of a great nation.

One of those grim chapters deals with slavery, how Americans held human beings in bondage, owned them like property. The PBS series “The American Experience” launches a three-night special look at that terrible time in our nation’s history, beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KACV-TV.

“The Abolitionists, Part One: 1820s-1838” takes the viewer back to when some American residents were considered to be three-fifths human. Think about that. Human beings weren’t considered fully human.

But some brave souls then began the fight to free those human beings from bondage. “The Abolitionists, Part One” looks at the work of William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe and others who sought to abolish slavery. Indeed, it was Stowe’s book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that became something of a rallying cry for the anti-slavery movement. And when President Abraham Lincoln met the author some years later, he reportedly greeted her with, “So you’re the lady who started the Civil War.”

Americans have been debating ever since the Civil War about why Americans fought each other from 1861 until 1865, and why 600,000 Americans died in that terrible conflict. Was it over slavery? Was it over trying to preserve “states’ rights”? Was it both?

“The Abolitionists, Part One” starts a careful examination of the fight to rid the nation of the terrible stain of slavery.

And what better time than to broadcast it this year, the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln announced in 1863?

Part Two of the series will be shown at 8 p.m. on Jan. 15, highlighting Frederick Douglass’ escape from enslavement and his joining the anti-slavery movement; Part Three airs at 8 p.m. on Jan. 22, and it centers on Lincoln’s proclamation and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery for good.

It all goes to show that even nightmarish historical chapters can result in a glorious ending.

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