Episode four looks at Civil War and Reconstruction through the experiences of South Carolina slave Robert Smalls. It chronicles Smalls' daring escape to freedom, his military service, and his tenure as a congressman after the war. As the events of Smalls' life unfold, the complexities of this period in American history are revealed. The episode shows the transformation of the war from a struggle for union to a battle over slavery. It examines the black contribution to the war effort and traces the gains and losses of newly freed African Americans during Reconstruction. The 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865, the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteed black civil rights, and the Freedmen's Bureau offered aid to former slaves throughout the 1870s. Yet simultaneously, the formation of militant groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan threatened the future of racial equality and segregation laws began to appear across the country. Slavery's eradication had not brought an end to black oppression.
Slavery and the Making of America is a four-part series documenting the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies to its end in the Southern states and the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction.Drawing on a wealth of recent scholarship, it looks at slavery as an integral part of a developing nation, challenging the long held notion that slavery was exclusively a Southern enterprise.At the same time, by focusing on the remarkable stories of individual slaves, it offers new perspectives on the slave experience and testifies to the active role that Africans and African Americans took in surviving their bondage and shaping their own lives.