CULTURE / Music & Arts | January 15, 2013 | project-black.com | OMAHA – Last week, PBS premiered part one of American Experience: “The Abolitionists.” It was the beginning of their three-part docudrama highlighting the lives of five major characters in the movement to end the institution of slavery. If you watched, you met all five of the principal characters.
Theirs is a compelling look inside some of the circumstances and life-changing events that drove many Americans to oppose the practice. Their opposition was the tip of the divide that threatened our fledgling nation for centuries before the outbreak of the Civil War.
Beginning Tuesday, January 15th, Part Two advances the story, covering the tumultuous years 1838 – 1854. This is the period where Frederick Douglass escapes slavery. He eventually joins William Garrison’s abolition efforts, experiences freedom in England, and launches the North Star, his own Abolitionist newspaper. His path also intersects with John Brown, where he learns that not everyone opposed to slavery believes the battle will be won without white bloodshed–nor is that an aim. And Harriett Beecher Stowe publishes the most popular and critical piece of abolitionist literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
This is also the point where project-black chooses to shift our focus westward. “The Abolitionists” is necessarily focused on the major events and impact of this divide in the most populated and established parts of the country. We’d like to shine a light on what was happening in the push for expansion. We represent the Midwest, and as important as the events in the deep South and East Coast are to ultimate resolution of slavery, what happened in our back yard is often an underreported and critical backdrop to this crucial period in American history.
We are grateful to the team at American Experience for their partnership, and willingness to share parts of their online platform with us during this campaign. Hopefully, our complementary content will help stoke your curiosity about this fascinating force for activism in America’s infancy.
We’d also like to extend a note of gratitude to a Nebraska-based partner whose contributions have been instrumental in our ability to help add to this story. Mayhew Cabin and John Brown’s Cave is a site dedicated to bringing an interpretive take on history to life. Their Nebraska City museum is a frequent stop for elementary school children. Once that 4th or 5th grade field trip ends, many of us never take the time to re-experience the chilling story that has been captured there as adults. What this site has frozen in time ties directly to the PBS docudrama, and plays directly into the events the series records as our Nation fights to define its soul.
Picture this: A tiny, cottonwood cabin carefully crafted on a clearing in the woods. At first glance, it appears to be the most rudimentary possible protection from the harsh Nebraska winter. But for fugitives escaping plantations in Missouri and points south, this little farmhouse is a refuge from not only the wind and cold, but from slavery itself.
This home of Barbara (Kagi) Mayhew, and her husband Allen is a stop on the underground railroad. Underneath their unassuming little cabin is a dugout. A cave disguised as a root cellar, hand dug as part of the insurrection against the crime of human trafficking.
For one night, maybe two, a runaway can find shelter from the elements, a safe place to rest, and enough food to survive for another day’s journey. Strategically, it is positioned far enough North to provide safe passage across the Missouri River into Iowa, without re-entering slaveholding Missouri.
There is no Fredrick Douglass here. No William Garrison, and no Harriet Beecher Stowe. Just a plucky pioneer family willing to risk everything to help provide safe passage.
The story chronicled by Part Two of “The Abolitionists” details a movement that is gaining support across huge swaths of the country. By the time the Civil War is simmering, there are many families, including the Mayhews, who feel compelled to take real, tangible action.
This week, project-black.com will chronicle some of the activity that leads to locations like Mayhew Cabin and John Brown’s cave being pressed into action. We hope you’ll join us for tales from that journey.
“The Abolitionists” part two premieres Tuesday, January 15th on PBS. Please check your local listings for times and stations.
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