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A 500 Year Fight for Freedom is a documentary series currently in development.

The African American Midwest: A 500 Year Fight for Freedom is a documentary series currently in development.

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Documentary Film

The African American Midwest

A digital and broadcast documentary with six segments:

Midwest Freedom, Slavery & Inequality

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.

Black Midwest Migrations

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.

Heartland Race Hatred

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.

Midwest Civil Rights

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.

Black Midwest Culture

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.

Black Midwest Power

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.


parade participants riding on horseback in Nicodemus

View more videos on our YouTube page

Executive Producers

Dr. Christy Clark-Pujara

Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Ashley Howard

Professor, University of Iowa

Dr. Erik McDuffie

Professor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Crystal Moten

Professor, American University | Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of American History

“Star Scholars”

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.