The Reckoning traces the history and lasting impact of slavery in America by looking at how the institution unfolded in Kentucky. The state remained in the Union during the Civil War, but many white Kentuckians fought to hang onto slavery and the wealth the enslaved provided. In the years that followed, former Unionists and Confederates banded together to violently deny black citizens a seat at the table. As part of this story, we will meet members of two families, one white and one black, whose lives were intertwined through slavery. These families reflect how slavery touched nearly every person, place and institution in America, and how the country still needs to reconcile this painful past with the the impact slavery has had on the present day health, wealth and safety of African Americans.
Episode One: Hidden History
The history of slavery is often taught as a bitter chapter of America’s past that has been rectified. But in Kentucky that history has been rarely acknowledged, and is poorly documented. This has made it particularly difficult for African American families to learn anything about their enslaved ancestors. We’ll meet one Black family just beginning to learn about their family’s connections to a plantation in Louisville.
Episode Two: Sold Down the River
Kentucky was an important hub of America’s internal slave trade, with fortunes made by slave traders and those who invested in enslaved people as commodities. We hear from members of a white family that descend from a Louisville slave trader and learn how integral slavery was to their wealth and to the economy of the state of Kentucky.
Episode Three: Recovering History
Due to prohibitions against enslaved people learning to read and write, there are only a few written records left behind by formerly enslaved Kentuckians. But thankfully, over 100 people were interviewed during the 1930s about their experiences while enslaved. These narratives, combined with letters and diaries kept by white enslavers, help us better understand the true nature of slavery in Kentucky.
Episode Four: The Civil War
The Civil War was a confusing time for enslaved people in Kentucky. Because the state remained loyal to the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply and slavery remained legal. And yet when tens of thousands of enslaved Kentuckians joined the Union Army, both the soldiers and their family members were considered free.
Episode Five: Aftermath
Kentuckians fought on both sides of the Civil War but came together at war’s end to oppose a common foe—newly emancipated African Americans yearning for education, dignity, and a decent living. In the process, the state pioneered restrictive racial laws that became models for the rest of the South.
Episode Six: Lost Cause
In the years that followed the Civil War, many Kentuckians embraced the Lost Cause ideology, even if they had fought for the Union. And some joined armed vigilante groups that used violence and terror to keep Black Kentuckians away from power and prosperity.
This is one of the best comprehensive explanations of our national racial history and thereby current situation that I have heard. I wish more would be made. And I hope many people listen.
History Relevant to Our Time
White Privilege, Reparations, Institutionalized Racism: these are hot button topic of our time that many of us stake out positions on, and enter into arguments about without historical context. Listen to this podcast and you will be much better equipped to understand why racial disparities exist today. You will also get a sense as to why an attempt should be made to right the racial wrongs of our collective past.
The Reckoning answers the question “why is our country is so divided”?
What We Forget
Why do white people and the nation at large forget what slavery really was? Listen here to find out. Fantastic podcast!