Slavery & the making of america (pbs, dvd)

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Peter Wood: The Jefferson family may have a violin from Europe. And someone plays that fiddle. ... Jupiter's family from Africa knows how to make banjos. In fact Thomas Jefferson himself writes about how the banjo is an African instrument. Originally in Africa they often made it using a big this is complicated coming together of different cultures not just Europe and Africa but varieties of West African cultures. On any given plantation any given young person like Jupiter is experiencing all these forces.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: For Jupiter growing to adulthood it was a double life. When Jefferson went off to college in Williamsburg, Jupiter accompanied him as his valet. When Jefferson went to court his future wife at her father's plantation, Jupiter would find his future wife enslaved there. They would all end up at Monticello, Jefferson's mansion in rural Virginia.


Morgan Freeman, Narrator: As slaves began forming extended families the slave quarter became the center of family life.

Norrece Jones: They, like any other human beings free or un-free, a thousand years ago or today, have the emotions of any other people. They fall in love, they hate others, they develop friendships and how to do this within the milieu of slavery simply made those very human realities more difficult and more challenging, but they existed.

Jennifer Morgan: ... Networks of love and affection and connection between the enslaved have got to be really crucial to surviving the experience of slavery ... to surviving it on an emotional level as well as a physical level.

Norrece Jones: But in the creation of those families it gave their owners yet another weapon to force them to behave in ways that they wanted.

Jennifer Morgan: What this community then becomes is the foundation for an internal slave trade where these children a ... these families will be separated in the future.

Peter Wood: ... It's almost unimaginable the tragedy of seeing next of kin simply removed, disappeared, shipped somewhere else. The sheer mind boggling excruciating situation of dealing with arbitrary power on a daily basis not knowing when you wake up in the morning whether the family will be complete when you go to bed at night.

16:53 Scene#3 Titus—the vignettes of Titus and Mum Bett are interesting, but might be told instead of shown, but then show 22:36 & on
Peter Wood: If you look at the runaway advertisements in the colonial newspapers what's striking is that roughly half of the people are running away to see kinfolk, to see loved ones. (image of woman running away in one of those obnoxious collars with spokes)

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Slave sales and cross-plantation marriages meant that families were strewn across the landscape. A web of well-worn footpaths soon connected plantations and farms creating a kinship map of a region. Those paths also functioned as trading and news networks. The complex waterways of the Atlantic seaboard extended these contacts. They would become key for a young slave, named Titus, coming of age on the eve of the American Revolution. During the early 1770s in Monmouth County, New Jersey Titus worked alongside his quick-tempered owner, John Corlies. It was a time when some colonists were beginning to protest British restrictions on their freedom. Titus was alert to the gathering storm. He knew that one protestant group -- the Quakers -- had begun to free their slaves . John Corlies was a Quaker.

Graham Russell Hodges: When Titus turns 21 he knows this is the age in which other Quakers free their enslaved people. Corlies refuses to do so.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Unlike other Quakers, Corlies also refused to teach Titus to read and write -- but he did send his young slave to market alone. Titus would take advantage of this practical education. He had a wide range of survival skills. He earned cash by selling animal skins and produce he had grown. He also owned a mental map of the area and its extensive waterways. As Titus turned 21 it was 1775. The American Revolution had begun. He now saw the mounting political conflict as an opportunity. He made a dangerous and risky move.

20:00 ish (when Mum Bett is introduced)

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: When Titus ran some half million, or one in five people in the colonies were of African descent. Most were enslaved. Some were free. A few even owned slaves themselves. As the relationship between the colonists and the British deteriorated, black people in America faced a new challenge -- how to make their demands for freedom heard in the growing cacophony for liberty. In rural Massachusetts a domestic slave by the name of Mum Bett was paying close attention to this unfolding crisis. She worked alongside her sister, Lizzie, in the home of John and Hannah Ashley.

John Sedgewick: Colonel John Ashley was probably the most important man in town. The Ashleys owned just about everything there was to own. Including as it turned out Mum Bett herself.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: One day an incident occurred that would strengthen Mum Bett's resolve

John Sedgewick: Lizzie was making for herself some wheat cakes from the scraps that were left over...and Mum Bett is watching from the other side of the room. When Mrs. Ashley sees this and gets furious. She takes a coal pan from the fireplace, a red-hot device that she's ready to bring down on little Lizzie's head. Well Mum Bett of course would never sit for that. She gets the coal pan on her own forearm and it burns her severely and leaves a nasty scar. Well for years afterwards Mum Bett made a point of rolling up her sleeves whenever she was in public so that she would reveal the scar. So that when people would ask her "why Betty what happened?" she would say "Ask Madam!"

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Mum Bett would soon take her destiny into her own hands. Deprived of an opportunity to learn how to read and write Mum Bett was listening in on the growing resentment of the colonists against British taxation and control. She was present during crucial meetings in the Ashley house when a position paper was written demanding rights for the colonists.

John Sedgewick : In it they used the phrase or something very close to "every citizen is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These words that come down from the philosopher John Locke and become part of the scriptural language of the Declaration of Independence. She would have been right there. She would have heard it.


Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Revolution and the rhetoric of liberty were in the air. Mum Bett and others like her would soon begin to exhale this new language.

Voice Over: The natural liberty of man is to be free.

Thomas Davis: Beginning in 1765 with the Stamp Act crisis, the language the rhetoric, of natural rights flows throughout the American colonies

Voice Over: The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.

Thomas Davis: There are continual pamphlets that are coming forward to express views of natural rights Slaves hear that conversation. Slaves some of them read those pamphlets .

Voice Over: All men are by nature equally free and have certain inherent rights in which when they enter.


Jim Horton: You know when you listen to the patriots.

Voice Over: Reducing us to slavery.

Jim Horton: They say we will not be the slaves of England. They don't say we will not be the second-class citizens. They will, they don't say we won't be the oppressed people they say we will not be the slaves. Well when people who hold slaves say we will not be slaves you know that they know what they're talking about. Well slaves were saying exactly the same thing. And African Americans were quick to say we will not be the slaves of England nor will we be the slaves of America.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: In early 1773 a petition arrived on the desk of governor Thomas Hutchinson, the British crown's representative in Massachusetts. At a time when most slaves were illiterate, this petition was signed by a slave.

Voice Over: "The humble Petition of many slaves: we shall never be able to possess and enjoy any thing, not even life itself, but in a manner as the beasts that perish. We have no Property! We have no City! No Country! ... Signed Felix.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Three months later another petition was written and signed by four enslaved men, Peter Bestes, Sambo Freeman, Chester Joie, and Felix Holbrook.

Voice Over: We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow men to enslave them.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The petitioners demanded answers.

Thomas Davis: How is it that you can talk about liberty as a fundamental right of human beings when in fact you keep us as slaves? How is it that you treat us as beasts when we are human beings? More than that -- how can you call yourselves Christian people?

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: A year later, yet another petition reached the new Massachusetts governor. Crafted by slaves, the words again would sound like a document that had yet to be written -- the Declaration of Independence.

Voice Over: We have in common with all other men a natural right to our freedoms without being deprived of them by our fellow men.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: All the petitions were dismissed. Slaves could see the paradox. Thomas Jefferson -- still in his early thirties, spoke of slavery as a moral evil yet he was a prominent member of the Virginia slave holding class. Now he was at work on a document about equality and liberty.

Voice Over: We hold these truths to be...

Peter Wood: If I were Jupiter looking at my childhood friend Thomas Jefferson knowing the world we both grew up in I wouldn't be surprised by the contradictions that emerge in his thinking.

Voice Over: Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Jim Horton: In some ways you know Thomas Jefferson is so like America itself. Thomas Jefferson expresses opinions in the Declaration of Independence that are wonderful examples of fairness, of a belief in human dignity and human freedom yet Thomas Jefferson is so contradictory because the man who writes the Declaration of Independence is the man that holds at one point almost 250 slaves or more. The country that says to the world we bring ourselves into existence on the principle of human freedom is the country that is, in many ways, founded on the principle of human slavery -- supported by that principle. That's a pretty substantial contradiction.

**you can see how this quote can provide a writing prompt for students to consider

27:28 Chapter 4 April 1775
Morgan Freeman, Narrator: April 1775. Open warfare broke out. Black people began choosing sides. In the North some 5,000 black men joined in mixed and all black regiments to fight on the side of the patriots some fought as minutemen in the earliest battles of the war. Black soldiers were badly needed because some white colonists were reluctant to serve. Initially, General Washington resisted arming black men.

Sylvia R. Frey: For white Americans everywhere the image of a black soldier toting a gun evokes a totally disordered society -- complete disordering of the old society.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Washington relented when he heard what was happening further south. Word was spreading that the British were going to offer freedom to slaves who joined their side.

Sylvia R. Frey: In November of 1775 Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation offering freedom to enslaved people who fled to the British who joined his Ethiopian corp.

Peter Wood: It has a tremendous effect and word spreads to other colonies.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: It was the rumor of Lord Dunmore's proclamation that probably inspired Titus to run away. After a stint in Dunmore's Ethiopian regiment Titus returned to the Monmouth New Jersey countryside. This time, he was leading a guerilla band of black and white raiders fighting for the British. Only now he was known as Colonel Tye. Colonel Tye and his band knew the landscape and the farmers in the region. They raided property and carried off cattle and clothing to deliver to British troops. They terrorized their former owners and kidnapped key patriot farmers most importantly they liberated their enslaved families and friends. (Another prompt here: imagine the power of Tye’s militia and the powerfulness they felt—but discuss the contradiction with the American Revolution’s focus on liberating itself from England and these slaves liberating themselves from America!)

Russell Hodges: New York was the cockpit of the revolution. Colonel Tye was somebody who was acting on a local level but his actions had continental importance.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: During a battle in September, 1780, Colonel Tye took a bullet in his wrist. Within days he died. Only 26 years old, he had fought in the revolution for five years.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Dunmore's offer of freedom coupled with the chaos of war led to a mass exodus from Southern plantations. Tens of thousands of slaves responded with their feet. The risks were huge.

Peter Wood: There are tragic stories in Chesapeake Bay. Word is out that you can get on board a British ship. So you gather your family eight or ten people in a small boat you row out to the boat that's flying a British flag only to find out that it's a hoax that the patriots have run up a British flag in order to lure you on board arrest you punish you and send you back to the plantation. It's stories like that that break your heart.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Those slaves that reached the British forces were assigned the most arduous tasks -- building fortifications, hauling heavy equipment, digging ditches. They lived in miserable conditions in military camps and died by the thousands of smallpox.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: At the end of the war, thousands of former slaves were transported to freedom by the British. Many others were freed by fighting for the patriots. No other event until the civil war would liberate so many slaves.


Jim Horton: The point in all this is that whether African Americans fought for the American cause or whether they fought for the British cause they were fighting for the central cause of freedom. That's what African Americans were fighting for. For them the revolution really was a freedom struggle. (From this point, the rest of the scene can be summarized instead of shown.)

Voice Over: All men are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: As the war was coming to an end, colonies began to write new constitutions. In 1780 the Massachusetts constitution was read aloud in every village including Sheffield where Mum Bett did errands. Soon after, Mum Bett knocked on the door of attorney Theodore Sedgwick. She knew him from the meetings at the Ashley house.

Thomas Davis: She overheard Ashley and his colleagues talking about the rhetoric of independence. Talking about natural rights.

Thomas Davis: Mum Bett essentially says we have this constitution that appears to announce a principle of each person being free. If that is the case then I am free.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Her meeting with Sedgwick led to a court suit in which Mum Bett and another slave of the household sued Colonel Ashley for their freedom.

John Sedgwick: It wasn't just Theodore John Sedgwick going against Colonel Ashley, he hired (Theodore did) some of the best legal talent that could be found in the whole Southern New England.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: In 1781 Mum Bett won her case and announced that she would thereafter be known as Elizabeth Freeman. Her victory helped pave the way for the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts two years later.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: During the long hot summer of 1787 enslaved coachmen waited outside independence hall in Philadelphia -- inside their owners forged a constitution for the new republic.

Peter Wood: The issue that was hardest for them to address was the issue of slavery and they simply postponed it all through that hot summer 'til the very end of their debates. And they finally brought it up and addressed it.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Most delegates -- north and south -- never considered eliminating slavery. It was clear any attempt at abolition would have ended the effort to create the United States. While the deals around slavery would shape the national debate for the next seventy years the words slave or slavery never appear in this founding document.

Jim Horton: Now they do refer to the institution in several indirect ways. There is the notion that the slave trade will not be abolished for at least 20 years. There is the notion that a person who owes service to a master in one state cannot escape that service by removing himself to another state. Now that's kind of a Fugitive Slave clause but they don't use the word slave or slavery.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The most politically significant deal embraced by the constitution was the three fifths-clause. It allowed states to count their enslaved population as three fifths of a person in determining representation in congress.

Jim Horton: So the fact is that from the south's point of view they are getting additional political power as a result of their slave population. Except for the three-fifths compromise Jefferson would have lost that election in 1800. But the slaves are not being represented. The slaves get nothing from this.

Peter Wood: And the republic that's created pays the price for that over the next many, many generations.

37:10 Scene #6 The Great Awakening—(not too good early; start at 40:00)

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Black people were betrayed by the new constitution. But if doors were shutting, they now looked for windows to open. Ninety percent of blacks were still enslaved. But in Northern cities freed black communities were organizing themselves. In Southern cities black artisans were buying their freedom. Both groups ignited an emancipation movement. It began with the founding of the first black Christian churches.

Sylvia R. Frey: It reinforced family and community. It provided the opportunity for men and women to exercise leadership roles.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Blacks had been slow to accept a religion that they associated with slavery and their masters, but in the mid-18th century a protestant revival movement called the great awakening introduced a more democratic and expressive form of Christianity and some blacks caught the spirit.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Some slave owners -- inspired by the values of the great awakening and the principles of the new nation -- began to free their slaves. Not Thomas Jefferson. In the 1780's Jefferson published his only book -- NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA. In it he argued against this "great political and moral evil" of slavery yet at the same time he wrote that blacks were mentally inferior to whites.

Jefferson quote from NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA:
"... It appears to me in memory they are equal; to whites, In reason much inferior."

Thomas Davis: He suggests that they're not as bright as smart, as intellectually gifted.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Jefferson's theories fueled both sides of the slavery debate. And while he wrote that black people should be free, he never used his power to free them, including during his presidency. Instead he supported shipping former slaves to Africa.

Thomas Davis: Jefferson apparently believed that you cannot have emancipation without having colonization. Which is to say that we can't just let them be free here. That won't work. So if we are going to emancipate them we have to send them somewhere else.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: While some blacks supported colonization most leaders in the freed black communities of the north denounced the idea.

Jim Horton: You know one of the things that these free blacks said is "I'm a citizen of the United States. My father my grandfather fought in the American Revolution to bring this nation into existence. I have as much right to be in America, to live in America as anybody here."


Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The generation of blacks born in the late 18th century were raised on the promises of the revolution and the frustrations of its aftermath. Among them was David Walker. Brought up in the south, Walker would move north to take the emerging abolitionist movement to another level. Walker was born free in the 1790s in Wilmington, North Carolina. He probably learned to read and write in one of Wilmington's first black Christian churches.

Jim Horton: These are places, which are not only religious places. These are places where political decisions are made, political meetings are held.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: By roughly 1820 David Walker made his way to Charleston. There he was exposed to the ideas of Denmark Vesey. A freed carpenter, Vesey was a leader in the new African Methodist Episcopal church.

Peter Hinks: David Walker learns from Denmark Vesey that the bible could be a very, very important tool in giving blacks a strength to resist their enslavement. And he sees how the church in Charleston could be a center for organizing blacks just in terms of numbers and also ideologically rallying them.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Vesey like many blacks -- enslaved and free -- had also digested the news about the Haitian revolution -- the slave rebellion which created the first black republic. By 1822 -- while David Walker was in Charleston -- Vesey was organizing a massive rebellion. But someone leaked it. And Vesey -- along with more than 30 others -- was executed.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: After that failed rebellion, Walker made his way to Boston. There he would discover not only a virulent racism against black men and women, but a growing political consciousness in the freed black community. In 1820s Boston, Walker became a leading voice in local black churches and organizations...

Jim Horton: He is a member of the Massachusetts Colored Association. ...a black society specifically focused on abolition.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: In 1829 Walker sat down to distill his experiences, his analysis of slavery and his rage. He wrote what came to be known as the most important abolitionist document of the nineteenth century. He called it AN APPEAL TO THE COLORED CITIZENS OF THE WORLD, but in particular, and very expressly, to those of the United States of America.
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