I’m an easy date. A free documentary screening and lecture in the city on a Friday night and I’m a happy camper (Danny really doesn’t appreciate this enough). Anyway, I initially thought the Created Equal showing of The Abolitionists was going to be held at the Detroit Public Library. I learned about the event from their Facebook page and was looking forward to exploring more of the library. Thankfully, I checked the website Friday morning and discovered the event was at the University of Michigan’s Detroit Center because the two organizations are co-sponsoring the series. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed we weren’t going to be at the library but the Detroit Center is very nice (just not particularly photogenic).
The Abolitionist is a three-part miniseries originally shown on PBS. It focuses on the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Beecher Stowe and John Brown. It’s a nice compilation of re-enactment, original images/footage and historian interviews. We watched a 30 minute selection on Friday and I watched the rest of the film over the weekend because it’s available for free on PBS.
Following the viewing, U of M professor, Dr. Jon Wells, spoke briefly about the film. Not surprisingly he criticized the top down approach taken by the producers. This is a common critic in the academic field; however, it’s not one that I share (I’ll spare you the reasons why).
In light of his position, Dr. Wells offered a local story that highlights the everyday man/woman’s resistance to slavery. In the early 1830s, Thorton Blackburn and his then future wife, Lucie, escaped slavery in Louisville, Kentucky and found refuge in Detroit. Unfortunately, their freedom was soon after jeopardized because their former owner discovered their location and demanded they be jailed. While detained and awaiting transfer back to Kentucky, a female friend visited the Blackburns and exchanged places with Lucie so that she could flee to Canada. When it came time for Thorton to be transported, hundreds of blacks surrounded the wagon and the subsequent uproar enabled Thorton to escape to Canada as well. The Blackburns eventually settled in Toronto where they established the city’s first cab company and have since been immortalized on a plaque. The things you don’t know, you don’t know.
The final installment of the Created Equal series is October 17th. There will be a showing of the documentary, The Loving Story, followed by a discussion and (since it’s campus event) there will also be free food. The film chronicles the quest to legalize interracial marriage in the United States in 1967. Yes, that is 1967 and not 1867. Not surprisingly, this story holds personal interest. I already watched the 17 minute selection (it’s film title link) and can hardly believe this was our country 50 years ago.
(Photo credit: Toronto History)