Explore the transformative years following the American Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuild itself in the face of profound loss, massive destruction, and revolutionary social change. The twelve years that composed the post-war Reconstruction era (1865-77) witnessed a seismic shift in the meaning and makeup of our democracy, with millions of former slaves and free black people seeking out their rightful place as equal citizens under the law. Though tragically short-lived, this bold democratic experiment was, in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, a ‘brief moment in the sun’ for African Americans, when they could advance, and achieve, education, exercise their right to vote, and run for and win public office. The first two hours of the series will center on this pivotal decade following the rebellion, charting black progress and highlighting the accomplishments of the many political leaders who emerged to usher their communities into this new era of freedom.
The series’ second half will look beyond that hopeful decade, when the arc of history bent backwards. It became increasingly clear that many former Confederates were never willingly going to accept this new social order and that the federal government was not prepared to provide African Americans with consistent or enduring protection of their new rights. While tracing the unraveling of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow segregation in the closing years of the nineteenth century, we will look at the myriad ways in which black people continued to acquire land, build institutions, and strengthen communities amidst increasing racial violence and repression. Less than thirty years after black men filled state legislatures, one by one, like dominoes tumbling the Southern states began drastically restricting the vote while drawing a stark color line that divided white and black America. The series will conclude with a focus on both the flowering of African American art, music, literature, and culture as tools of resistance in the struggle against Jim Crow racism and the surge of political activism that marked the launch of such iconic civil rights organizations as the National Association of Colored Women, the Niagara Movement, and the NAACP, all at a time when black political power had been blunted and the dream of an interracial democracy seemed impossibly out of reach.
- #101 – airs 4/9 at 9 p.m.
- #102 – airs 4/16 at 9 p.m.