Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)
Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

The Wisconsin Historical Society will host the first film in a four-part documentary series, Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, in Madison on Wednesday, February 5. Selected segments of the initial film in the series, The Abolitionists, will air at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Society’s headquarters at 816 State Street. Admission is free.

The Abolitionists vividly brings to life the struggles of the men and women who led the battle to end slavery. Professor Andrew Kahrl of Marquette University will moderate a post-screening discussion with audience members.

Putting a Face on the Anti-Slavery Movement

The film makes innovative use of re-enactments and puts a face on the anti-slavery movement. It features five important figures in the struggle to abolish slavery: impassioned New England newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison; former slave, author and activist Frederick Douglass; Angelina Grimké, daughter of a rich South Carolina slaveholder; Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the enormously influential Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and John Brown, ultimately executed for his armed seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Milestones

Through the Created Equal film series, the Society will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act. Other upcoming films in the series and their screening dates are:

  • The Loving Story on Tuesday, March 4, which documents the story of a couple arrested and prosecuted in Virginia in 1958 for their interracial marriage;
  • Freedom Riders on Tuesday, March 25, which tells the terrifying story of one group of white and black volunteers who rode a bus into the Deep South in 1961 to press for equal treatment of African Americans in interstate travel;
  • Slavery by Another Name on Tuesday, April 22, which features interviews with the descendants of victims and perpetrators of trumped-up crimes in the Deep South intended to create a captive force of unpaid labor in the early 20th century.
  • All films will begin at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium on the first floor of 816 State Street.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Bridging Cultures initiative have generously underwritten the Created Equal film series.

Due to their length, only segments of the four films will air during the evening sessions, but the Society will make the films available in their entirety in the Society’s Library Reading Room. They may also be viewed online at Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle.

Showcasing the Society’s Civil Rights Collections

Image from the Society's Rare Book Collection (ID 82138)
Image from the Society’s Rare Book Collection (ID 82138)

The Society will showcase its own extensive civil rights collections online during the three-month run of the film series. To see more than 25,000 pages of official records, personal papers, letters and diaries, racist propaganda, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and photographs and graphics documenting Freedom Summer, visit

One of the Society’s other unique and extensive collections relating to civil rights is its collection of African-American newspapers and periodicals. A number of other Society civil rights records can be explored on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s March on Milwaukee website.

For more information on the “Created Equal” film series or the Society’s civil rights collections, contact Rick Pifer weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 608-264-6477 or Gayle Martinson 608-264-6535 Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m.