Transcript

Kidada Williams: On January 6, 2021, a white mob egged on by the sitting President attempted to overthrow American democracy by storming the Capitol building in Washington DC. For many Americans, it was…

News Tape: (montage of reporters calling the event “unprecedented”)

KW: For me, it was just another day in post-emancipation America. My name is Kidada Williams. I’m a historian who studies the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. I research the central role African Americans played in the Civil War and the price they paid for trying to be equal partners in American freedom.

I know that the attack on the Capitol was part of a much longer assault on democracy and freedom in America—the continuation of a century and a half of white racial grievance and refusal to allow black people to be free, secure, and equal.

So it was striking, but not surprising, to see an intruder waving a Confederate flag, in the halls of Congress, in 2021. White people rampaging in opposition to a more egalitarian democracy…tracks. We’ve been down this road before.

During the Civil War, Black people fought and died trying to be free. During Reconstruction, they pushed for their right to self-determination and to establish a multi-racial democracy. Black men were elected to office. Black women formed labor organizations and protested injustice.

White terrorists retaliated against Black people’s successes, by killing black voters and elected officials, burning their schools and churches, massacring families, and passing laws to limit their rights.

That era also saw: Impeachment, violent white bigotry and police brutality.

Most Americans don’t know this history—it’s been systematically erased for generations. If you’ve heard stories about Reconstruction, you’ve probably heard that it failed. And sure, some parts of Reconstruction did fail—but not because Black people didn’t claim their freedom.

Black Reconstruction, that push to reconstruct American democracy to be more inclusive, was violently overthrown by white people who didn’t really believe in “liberty and justice”…at least not for all.

And so it’s time for a new story—a story that will help us better understand how we got here. A story where the central characters are the Black people who fought to liberate themselves, who gained political power despite every attempt at violent suppression. It’s time for Seizing Freedom.

Jacob Christy: I do really think that it’s God’s will that this war Shall not end till the Colored people get their rights. It goes very hard for the White people to think of it.

KW: Seizing Freedom will tell you the story of the Civil War and Reconstruction—in Black people’s own words. Our episodes use archives of letters, speeches, diaries and newspapers to show how real people took and made their freedom.

Mary Armstrong: Come ‘63 when Mr. Will set us all free, I said ‘Away I goin’ to find my Mamma.’

John M. Washington: I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me…

KW: We’ll take you from enlistment during the War and what it took to reunite families torn apart by slavery through making a living and the fight for rights.

Susie King Taylor: They say, “One flag, one nation, one country, indivisible.” Is this true? Can we say this truthfully, when one race is allowed to burn, hang, and inflict the most horrible torture weekly, monthly, on another? No…It is hollow mockery.

KW: Every other week, we’ll also bring you interview episodes, with historians and artists who work in these archives, to discuss how the stories there parallel, and even impact, the present day. I’m excited to take you on this thrilling journey back in time, which I hope can help us understand and shoulder our responsibility for seizing, protecting, and expanding freedom today.

Seizing Freedom is a co-production of VPM and Witness Docs.