PBS Questions Lincoln's Anti-Slavery Credentials

Tuesday, 08 Jan 2013 01:41 PM

By Christiana Lilly

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President Abraham Lincoln has been lauded as one of the country’s greatest leaders, who freed the slaves and fought for human rights in the United States. However, a new television series questions the mystique that has surrounded him for more than 150 years.

"There's this perception that good old Lincoln and a few others gave freedom to black people. The real story is that black people and people like Douglass wrestled their freedom away," Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a history professor, told CNN.

PBS’s three-hour “The Abolitionists” premieres Tuesday night, chronicling the movement to free slaves through the eyes of five famous American abolitionists: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimk√©, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown.

“Even Lincoln admitted that he had been in danger of falling on the wrong side of the issue, politically if not personally, and that his actions were influenced by the relentless pursuit of justice by a group of Americans who devoted years of their lives to the abolition of slavery,” Mary McNamara, LA Times film critic, wrote in her review.

Harriet Beecher Stowe brought slavery to the forefront in her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” while the violent John Brown attacked Harper’s Ferry. A part of the station’s “American Experience” series, the film not only brings light to those who were working behind the scenes to right what they felt was wrong, but reviewers are also noting that it puts the admired Lincoln into a more realistic tone.

"No historian would doubt that Lincoln was a man of his times … He was a racist, and never truly believed that blacks could live in America after emancipation," Dunbar told CNN.

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