Justice Denied, pt. 1

Program 183 • 29 mins


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How could a nation founded on a Declaration that “all men are created equal” permit slavery? Nowhere was this contradiction starker than in federal courts before the nation erupted into Civil War. In this documentary, we consider several historical flashpoints.
 In one case, historians, legal scholars, and actors re-create the fugitive slave trial of Anthony Burns, a teenager born as a slave in Virginia. After escaping on a boat to Boston, he was apprehended and forced into federal court where under the Fugitive Slave Act he could be ordered back to slavery. The federal court proceedings that followed his arrest provoked the largest abolitionist protest the nation had ever seen. In the end, Burns, then 20 years old, was marched through the city in chains and deposited on a boat, which would take him back to cruel punishment as a slave. The judge, Edward Loring, later faced strong ostracism and was eventually removed from his other post as a state judge.

Frederick DouglassIn the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice, and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

—Frederick Douglass, abolitionist


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