American Experience: Season 12 (1999 - 2000)

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Season 12
American Experience

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Episodes

Air date: Nov 14, 1999

"The Country and the City: 1609-1825" (Part 1 of seven). New York, notes narrator David Ogden Stiers, "was a business proposition from the very start," when Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch East India Company, sailed into its harbor. Part 1 also focuses on New Yorker Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary; and Gov. DeWitt Clinton, who built the Erie Canal. "All America," says Stiers, "now met in New York."

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Air date: Nov 15, 1999

"Order and Disorder: 1825-1865" (Part 2 of seven) recalls a period of tremendous growth and ferment. Most of the new arrivals were Irish immigrants (100,000 by 1842—and that was before the potato famine), and the subsequent overcrowding led to the construction of Central Park (1857-58). But that didn't quell the ferment, which exploded in 1863 with the racially charged draft riots. "It was the largest incident of civil disorder in U.S. history," notes historian Mike Wallace.

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Air date: Nov 16, 1999

"Sunshine and Shadow: 1865-1898" (Part 3 of seven). During the Gilded Age, New York "was home to the greatest concentration of wealth in human history," says narrator David Ogden Stiers. And, he adds, "the greatest concentration of poverty." This episode surveys that dichotomy, from Fifth Avenue mansions to slums documented by Jacob Riis in "How the Other Half Lives." Also recalled: the fall of William H. "Boss" Tweed ("he took a fall for the system," claims Pete Hamill).

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Air date: Nov 17, 1999

"The Power and the People: 1898-1914" (Part 4 of seven) recalls the era of mass immigration. "The entire world would arrive on the city's doorstep," says narrator David Ogden Stiers (1.2-million in 1907 alone). "There was a message," says writer Pete Hamill. "Come here, everything is possible." The program also follows the political career of "Happy Warrior" Al Smith; and charts the construction of the subways and the rise of skyscrapers in the clogged city.

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Air date: Nov 18, 1999

"Cosmopolis: 1914-1931" (Part 5 of seven) recalls the WWI years and the "Roaring '20s" in the city that F. Scott Fitzgerald called "the land of ambition and success." Of course, an egg was laid on Wall Street in 1929, but before that happened the city gave rise, narrator David Ogden Stiers says, "to a new culture, a mass culture" that was broadcast live on radio networks headquartered in New York.

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Air date: Jan 10, 2000

She was the first president's wife to testify before a Congressional committee, to hold press conferences, to speak before a national party convention, to write a syndicated column, to be a radio commentator, and to earn money as a lecturer. For more than 30 years, Eleanor Roosevelt was the most powerful woman in America. To admirers, she was a woman with immense moral and physical courage, while detractors criticized her socialist leanings and her "overreaching" role as first lady. Rare home movies and the voice recordings of Eleanor Roosevelt herself are interwoven with recollections from her closest surviving friends and relatives. Civil rights leaders and leading historians examine her legacy and outline her story, from her painfully shy beginnings to the familiar rise of her political partnership with Franklin Roosevelt and her dedication to social equality, as well as lesser known aspects of her life such as her battle with depression, her contentious relationship with former Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickock, and her equally curious friendships with men. American Experience: Eleanor Roosevelt goes beyond the White House years where, after FDR's death, Eleanor remained a powerful figure in national politics.

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Air date: Feb 1, 2000

The American Experience: Nixon's China Game is a 90-minute PBS historical documentary that focuses on Richard Nixon's unprecedented trip to Beijing in 1972. Narrated by David Ogden Stiers, the program describes the behind-the-scenes planning that led to Nixon's historic meeting with China's Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Highlights of the film include interviews with Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, archival news footage, photographs, and a discussion of recently declassified information.

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Air date: Feb 8, 2000

This video is the story of the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University. When their school found itself in financial trouble, the singers saved the day through their beautiful singing of spirituals. In 1871, they went on an historic tour and sang before President Ulysses S. Grant, and Queen Victoria of England. Their message of racial equality (all but two members of the group were former slaves) and spirituality struck a chord with audiences around the world. Using reenactments, archival photographs, and excerpts from diaries and letters, the stories of these extraordinary young people are told.

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Air date: Feb 15, 2000

Narrated by Linda Hunt, this episode of The American Experience takes an in-depth look at the duel fought between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the duel that left Hamilton dead and Burr forever after a controversial figure. This video is a careful look into the context each man lived within and tries to explain how two very powerful men could come to settle their differences with gunfire. Beyond that, the video uses the figure of the hardscrabble Hamilton and the patrician Burr to draw some sobering conclusions about social class in the United States. For those with an interest in U.S. history, this tape will be of interest. Its sober tone and wealth of careful research make it appropriate for use in the college classroom.

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Air date: Feb 28, 2000

Narrated by Joe Morton, this edition of The American Experience takes a 90-minute look at a man who is still a controversial figure in American History. John Brown believed he had a calling to end slavery in this nation. Unlike many such men who sat back and let their words speak, Brown put thought into action. Two years before the start of the Civil War, John Brown and a handful of followers seized the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. They intended to arm slaves and lead a nation wide revolt. Instead, Marines under the leadership of Robert E. Lee put and end to Brown's dream. The ensuing trial pushed the divisive issue of slavery to the fore of America's consciousness and lit the long fuse that exploded at Fort Sumter. This video examines the life of this willing martyr and tries to explain where he came from and how this country produced a man who in many ways was our first domestic terrorist. Although its length may preclude its use in some contexts, this video is certainly appropriate for the college classroom as it presents the events of the day in all their complexity.

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