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Highlights Archives

'The Abolitionists' Debuts February 5

An 1863 Harper's Weekly illustration depicting a column of federal soldiers arriving at a Southern plantation that uses slave labor.
WHI 82138

The Wisconsin Historical Society will host the first film in a four-part documentary series, "Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle," in Madison on Wednesday, February 5. Selected segments of the initial film in the series, 'The Abolitionists,' will air at 7 pm in the auditorium of the Society's headquarters at 816 State Street. Admission is free. "The Abolitionists" vividly brings to life the struggles of the men and women who led the battle to end slavery. Professor Andrew Kahrl of Marquette University will moderate a post-screening discussion with audience members.

Putting a Face on the Anti-Slavery Movement

The film makes innovative use of re-enactments and puts a face on the anti-slavery movement. It features five important figures in the struggle to abolish slavery: impassioned New England newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison; former slave, author and activist Frederick Douglass; Angelina Grimké, daughter of a rich South Carolina slaveholder; Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the enormously influential "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; and John Brown, ultimately executed for his armed seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Milestones

Through the "Created Equal" film series, the Society will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act. Other upcoming films in the series and their screening dates are:

  • 'The Loving Story' on Tuesday, March 4, which documents the story of a couple arrested and prosecuted in Virginia in 1958 for their interracial marriage;
  • 'Freedom Riders' on Tuesday, March 25, which tells the terrifying story of one group of white and black volunteers who rode a bus into the Deep South in 1961 to press for equal treatment of African Americans in interstate travel;
  • 'Slavery by Another Name' on Tuesday, April 22, which features interviews with the descendants of victims and perpetrators of trumped-up crimes in the Deep South intended to create a captive force of unpaid labor in the early 20th century.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Bridging Cultures initiative have generously underwritten the "Created Equal" film series. Due to their length, only segments of the four films will air during the evening sessions, but the Society will make the films available in their entirety in the Society's Library Reading Room. They may also be viewed online at

Showcasing the Society's Civil Rights Collections

Forward-thinking student workers on the Society's staff in 1964 who witnessed firsthand the turbulent events taking place in the American South — and recognized they were seeing history in the making — encouraged the Society to proactively document the struggle for civil rights. Consequently, a half century later, the Society's civil rights holdings are among the most comprehensive in the nation.

The Society will showcase its own extensive civil rights collections online during the three-month run of the film series. To see a host of official records, personal papers, letters and diaries, racist propaganda, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and photographs and graphics documenting Freedom Summer, visit our Freedom Summer website.

One of the Society's other unique and extensive collections relating to civil rights is its collection of African-American newspapers and periodicals. You can learn more about that collection by visiting our African-American newspapers page. A number of other Society civil rights records can be explored on UW-Milwaukee's March on Milwaukee website.

For more information on the "Created Equal" film series or the Society's civil rights collections, contact Rick Pifer at 608-264-6477, weekdays 8 am to 4 pm, or Gayle Martinson at 608-264-6535, weekdays 4 to 9 pm.

:: Posted January 23, 2014

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