WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Reckoning: Facing the Legacy of Slavery in America

To commemorate Black History Month, Tri States Public Radio will air The Reckoning: Facing The Legacy of Slavery in America on Sundays at 3pm during the month of February.

The Reckoning traces the history and lasting impact of slavery in America by looking at the experience of Kentucky, a slave state which stayed in the Union during the Civil War, but then aligned itself with Confederate ideals in the decades thereafter.

In a four-hour series for public radio, The Reckoning traces the history and lasting impact of slavery in America by looking at how the institution unfolded in Kentucky. This history is the genesis of many of the issues that exploded into public consciousness throughout the country in 2020.

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 who were deeply affected by the institution of slavery. One is a prominent white family descended from both a major slave trader and one of Kentucky’s largest slave owners, the other an African American family who descend from two of the people enslaved by the white family.

These two 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 impact slavery has had on the present day health, wealth and safety of African Americans.

Louisa Taylor with Helen Stites

Sunday, February 7, 3pm
Episode 1: Invisible 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.  

Unknown Man Breaking Hemp

Sunday, February 14, 3pm
Episode 2: 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.    

Former slaves from Mercer County, KY

Sunday, February 21, 3pm
Episode 3: Aftermath

White 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 years that followed, Kentucky pioneered restrictive racial laws that became models for the rest of the South, and thwarted many efforts by Black Kentuckians to prosper--using violence and terror to accomplish whatever the law could not.   

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin. Courtesy of Louisville Public Media

Sunday, February 28, 3pm
Episode 4: Facing The Past

There are clear lines that connect the legacy of slavery to many of our present day issues, including the racial inequities of COVID-19 infection and deaths, wealth inequality, and ongoing police brutality. A true and deep understanding of our history allows us to navigate the present moment and stop running away from the past.