Ken Burns plans on doing a documentary about Reconstruction by 2020

Historians in the News
tags: Reconstruction, Ken Burns



... Given the role of race in Burns’s films and thinking, I asked whether he ever considered making a film about Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War when the states that seceded were reintegrated back into the United States — and when the promises made to freed slaves immediately began to falter. As it turns out, Burns had actually contemplated making a Reconstruction movie before “The Civil War,” and it’s only now that the film has achieved what Burns refers to as “inner emotional traction.”

“I’ve said yes, fully, to it,” he told me. “We’ve got a skein of films under production that go to 2020, so I imagine even before that, we’ll begin work on it.” The series doesn’t have an official title yet, but right now, Burns is referring to it as “From Emancipation to Exodus” and planning for it to run three episodes.

“It’s that period from Jan. 1, 1863, when African Americans get their freedom, but they get nothing but their freedom, through the end of the Civil War, the promise of Reconstruction, the collapse of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching, through black leaders who are trying to adjust to this new dynamic — Booker T. Washington, urging accommodation, W.E.B. Dubois urging the strengthening of institutions, Marcus Garvey even suggesting that blacks go back to Africa, finally culminating with the post-World War I [sentiment]: ‘You know what, eight out of ten of us still live in the South, let’s get the hell out of here,’ initiating the Great Migration that would take place over the next several decades.”

He even knows what the last words of the documentary will be. “They would head, as the poet Langston Hughes wrote, ‘towards the warmth of other suns.’ ” In all the time Burns has been chronicling American history, that dream hasn’t been accomplished. But the journey continues.




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