On January 1, 1863, when abolitionist leaders Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison received word that the Emancipation Proclamation had declared three million enslaved African Americans "forever free," it was the culminating moment of the most important civil rights crusade in American history, and the climax of a long and difficult friendship between two remarkable men. In this series, the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation, American Experience tells the story of how Douglass, Garrison and their abolitionist allies Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown and Angelina Grimke turned a despised fringe movement against chattel slavery into a force that literally changed the nation. The "holy warriors" of emancipation captured the private details of their tumultuous political and personal journeys toward freedom in letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and memoirs. They revealed themselves to be willful, arrogant, righteous, and unbending, yet empathic, faithful, loyal, candid, and just. They fought the slave-holding South with a moral passion and bickered among themselves with petty familiarity. Along the way, they fell in love, got married, had families, lost loved ones, formed cliques, quarreled and made up.
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