THE AFRICAN AMERICAN MIDWEST:
A 500 Year Fight for Freedom
The African American Midwest:
A 500 Year Fight for Freedom
The African American Midwest
A digital and broadcast documentary with six segments:
Through the stories of Ohio fugitive slaves Margaret Garner and Josiah Henson and Dred and Harriet Scott we explore the little-known history of slavery, abolition, and discriminatory “black laws” in the pre-Civil War Midwest. We also get a “steadicam tour” of the National Underground Museum and Freedom Center.
We learn of pre-Civil War migrations by free African Americans, including members of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings’s family to Ohio; the Great Plains “Exodus” championed by Sojourner Truth; and the 20th century’s Great Migration.
The segment examines the legacy of race violence in the Midwest: 250 lynchings (including 15 in Ohio); police brutality in Cincinnati, Ferguson and Minneapolis; and race massacres, from Cincinnati 1829 to Detroit 1943 to the 1919 Red Summer to the 1917 East St. Louis Riots, called the “Outrage of the Century” by chronicler Ida B. Wells.
We learn about the Midwest’s pioneering fight for voting rights, school desegregation, lunch counter sit-ins, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Midwest fair housing crusade.
Jazz, ragtime and blues; Negro League baseball; the Bronzeville Renaissance – just some the Black Midwest’s cultural contributions to America. We also learn how Motown combined black southern music with Detroit’s “Assembly Line” know-how to create the “Music Factory” that racially integrated American pop culture, and the profound contributions of Ohio’s Toni Morrison.
We learn that black economic, media, and cultural power emanated from the Midwest, from Oberlin’s John Mercer Langston, only the third African American to hold elective office in America, to Carl Stokes making history as America’s first black mayor of Cleveland, to the rise of Illinois’s Barack Obama.
Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Director/Executive Producer/CEO, La Mancha Film Co.
Host, KUOW Public Radio
Producer, CET/PBS Cincinnati | Professor, University of Cincinnati
Professor, University of Iowa
Professor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Professor, American University | Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Professor, University of Minnesota
Director, African American History Program, Smithsonian National Museum of American History Founder and Director, History Film Forum
The leading scholars of the African American Midwest are participating in the project as advisors and/or interviewees. Interviewees include former University of Cincinnati Professor Nikki Taylor, author of Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community and Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner. Taylor is currently Chair of Howard University History Department.
Black Midwest Profile Interstitials
Interstitial segments will profile figures like John Legend and Lebron James; and the neighborhoods/communities of Cincinnati’s West End, Detroit’s Black Bottom, Chicago’s Bronzeville, and Minneapolis’s Powderhorn, site of the George Floyd Memorial.
The African American Midwest is being distributed by WTTW/PBS Chicago in association with the Midwestern History Association, Indiana Humanities, Humanities Kansas and Humanities Iowa.