TV Review: America -- The Story of Us -- Part 2
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America: The Story of Us - Part 2
You can almost hear Woodie Guthrie as the narrator (Liev Schreiber) tells us about the land that was "...made for you and me." The first segment of America: The Story of Us ended last Sunday night (April 25) with the First Continental Congress achieving solidarity. The individual states agreed that collectively they would be "America" and that any grievance against one would be considered to be against all. It was like a meteor strike in world politics.
Westward -- Storm Ahead
Episode 3 - Westward
Segment two begins with a meteor of another kind. The kind from space that strikes our planet and creates what would later be known as "Cumberland Gap". Daniel Boone led a group of explorers taking no supplies. They lived off the land and were successful. They got through the gap and opened the floodgates for settlers headed West. Donald Trump interrupts the story here with a comment about perseverance and how essential it is to achieving your goals. Trump's presence is an appropriate segue into coverage of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. It was a deal of Trump proportions and one that would cause "the Donald" to drool. The United States bought from France a half billion, yes, BILLION acres for three cents apiece.
From a larger perspective, you could say that America's journey westward was the ultimate "road trip", not counting the trip across the Atlantic generations before. In that context, we next learn about another road trip of significance to all Americans. Buzz Aldrin (a significant explorer himself) introduces the story of Lewis and Clark. Some amazing facts and surprising anecdotes come out in this part of the story as we learn that the Rocky Mountains actually consist of ninety separate ranges that stretch over three thousand miles. And then, I'm suckered into a commercial just like last week.
Some of the same historians that have appeared throughout the series, accompanied by Schreiber's narration, talk about settlers that followed Lewis and Clark. They mention the miners and those that made more money selling tools to the miners than the prospectors themselves. They mention Levi Straus and the Stanford family (of university fame) and how they banked at Rideout Bank in Sacramento. Before you know it, we find ourselves in the middle of a commercial for Bank of America, the sponsor.
The way west was marked by an average of ten graves per mile as over twenty thousand perished en route. Other journeys and events were devastating as well: the Donner party, the Alamo, the California gold rush and the "Trail of Tears" all had significant impacts both then and today.
Thomas Jefferson predicted that it would take a thousand generations to settle the wilderness; he was wrong. It took our aggressive ancestors only four generations. When the steamboat made northbound traffic on the Mississippi River, easy other changes in the country began to be noticed -- along with long-term problems. And this led to division.
Episode 4 - Division
How could a country based upon the tenet that "All men are created equal" allow slavery, a conundrum that still haunts us even after the election of an African-American as President.
What do cotton and power looms have to do with Silicon Valley and computers? I was surprised and satisfied with the connection.
This was a time in which commerce and industry swept across the nation and the Erie Canal created a boom in New York City. The New York port overtook New Orleans to become the largest port in the States. Northern mills thrived on "King Cotton" from the South and a country united in prosperity became divided culturally.
America: The Story of Us devotes an appropriate portion of Episode 4 to a housewife and mother who was married to a theology professor and penned a novel to protest a law enacted by congress. Few of us remember this work by it's alternate title, Life Among the Lowly. Vermont professor, Jay Parini says in his book, The Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America, "..it changed the way people thought about race -- perhaps the dominant issue in American culture over the past two centuries." He also pointed out that it drew "attention to the horror of slavery and put African American characters before a mass (largely white) audience in vivid ways." The President welcomed Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, into the White House and was said to have exclaimed, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"
Many famous names appear on stage from Fredrick O. Douglas and Harriet Tubman (who died the year Rosa Parks was born) to John Brown and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's election to the White House sets the stage for Episode 5 on Sunday, May 9, "Civil War".