'American Experience: The Race Underground'
(DVD / PG / 2017 / PBS)
Overview: In the late 19th century, as America's teeming cities grew increasingly congested, the time had come to replace the nostalgic horse-drawn trolleys with a faster, cleaner, safer, and more efficient form of transportation. Based in part on Doug Most's acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name, 'American Experience: The Race Underground' tells the dramatic story of an invention that changed the lives of millions.
DVD Verdict: For those not in the complete historical know, The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early-to-mid 19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.
As this brand new PBS documentary showcases during 'American Experience: The Race Underground', the term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives. Various other routes led to Mexico or overseas. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until shortly after the American Revolution.
However, the network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the late 1700s, and reached its height between 1850 and 1860. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the "Railroad".
But it wasn't an easy undertaking back then, by a long shot. Not only were the modern cities of the world filled with horses, they were filled with their excrement, along with all the billowing smoke and caked dirt that modern industry of the time could produce. Ergo, 'The Race Underground' offers a colorful and informative description of that bygone era.
Famous names surface throughout the documentary - men like Andrew Carnegie, Boss Tweed, and Thomas Edison. But the film ties the story together through two less famous, more essential brothers: Henry Whitney of Boston and William Whitney of New York. When the city of London built the first subway, it might have seemed only a matter of time before one was constructed in a major U.S. city. The truth is much more complicated and fascinating than that so I urge you to buy this new PBS DVD and watch history being made (and something we now take for granted) before your very eyes. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.