American Experience (1988– )
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The Abolitionists: Part 1 

The stories of the major figures of the pre-American Civil War political movement to eliminate slavery.



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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. See more awards »




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Narrator (voice)
John Brown
Carol Berkin ...
Herself, historian
Lois Brown ...
Herself, historian
Manisha Sinha ...
Herself, historian
David W. Blight ...
Himself, historian
James Brewer Stewart ...
Himself, historian
Julie Roy Jeffrey ...
Herself, historian
W. Caleb McDaniel ...
Himself, historian
John Stauffer ...
Himself, historian
Erica Armstrong Dunbar ...
Herself, historian
R. Blakeslee Gilpin ...
Himself, historian
Frederick Douglass
William Lloyd Garrison
Angelina Grimké


Shared beliefs about slavery bring together Angelina Grimké, the daughter of a Charleston plantation family, who moves north and becomes a public speaker against slavery; Frederick Douglass, a young slave who becomes hopeful when he hears about the abolitionists; William Lloyd Garrison, who founds the newspaper The Liberator, a powerful voice for the movement; Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose first trip to the South changes her life and her writing; and John Brown, who devotes his life to the cause. The abolitionist movement, however, is in disarray and increasing violence raises doubts about the efficacy of its pacifist tactics. Written by Anonymous

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Release Date:

2012 (USA)  »

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16:9 HD
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User Reviews

Among the very best documentaries PBS has to offer.
20 January 2016 | by See all my reviews

I am a retired American history teacher and have long loved the PBS historical documentaries. They are among the very best of their kind and have set the standard for excellence. However, even among these films, "The Abolitionists" stands above most all of them in quality and watchability. While the Burns brothers have gained greater fame than Rob Rapley, Rapley creates an even more compelling portrait of a bygone era. Using not only the usual pan and scan photos, narration and interviews with various historians, he also has actors dressed in period settings acting out what you are hearing about on the screen...and you get to hear the words of these great Americans. Short of using a time machine to jump back through the 19th century, I cannot imagine a better way to bring all this to life.

Episode one, not surprisingly, is about the birth of the abolition movement in America. Until the very late 1820s, there was no movement and two of the first signs of the movement were the abortive slave uprising led by Nat Turner as well as William Lloyd Garrison's creation of the anti-slavery newspaper, "The Liberator". Additional topics covered in the first episode include the life of the famous Southern abolitionist, Angelina Grimké, the early years of Frederick Douglas both as a slave and early abolitionist as well as the early life of John Brown. All this is told wonderfully and is a treat to are subsequent episodes.

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