Many people consider that the United States was founded after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. However, a new docuseries “Amend: The Fight for America” hosted and produced by Will Smith, argues that it wasn’t until the passage of the 14th amendment that the United States was truly founded. The 14th amendment is a landmark piece of legislation that was passed after the Civil War and promised citizenship and equal protection under the law for all Americans. Even though its passage was a turning point in history, many Americans continue to be discriminated against by society and by the law.
According to Smith, the 14th amendment is cited in more litigation than any other amendment. However, many Americans hardly know that it exists or what it means for their freedom. This lack of awareness became the driving force in creating “Amend” as a way to educate citizens on the history of the term “freedom” in the United States and the instrumental individuals who fought tirelessly to ensure that this freedom extends to all Americans—not just white men.
The six-episode docuseries features professors, journalists, lawyers and activists who discuss the importance of the 14th amendment and the long journey that Black Americans have endured in the fight for equality. Smith and various actors help bring to life the important milestones in American history, spanning from the founding of the United States to the election of former President Barack Obama.
Before the passage of the 14th amendment, slavery ran rampant throughout the United States, especially in the South. The first episode of the series discusses the paradox of the Declaration of Independence being passed while the country still heavily supported the institution of slavery. The idea of “freedom” that was fundamental to the founding fathers only applied to specific members of society and prevented Black Americans from possessing the same level of freedom as their white counterparts.
Frederick Douglass was one of many individuals who became well known for his role in abolishing slavery. He strongly believed that slaves deserved to be citizens –an idea that was unconventional during that time period. As a slave, Douglass taught himself how to read and eventually escaped to New York City in the mid-1800s. He then recounted his experiences as a slave in his memoir “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.” In this book, he explored the question of why he was subjected to slavery when he saw white men, women and children living free lives all around him. Douglass would go on to become a prominent social reformer and leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, delivering many speeches and publishing “The North Star,” an anti-slavery newspaper.
Each hour-long episode of “Amend” is filled with valuable information and stories about people, like Douglass, Thurgood Marshall and Harriet Jacobs, who were involved in the passage of the 14th amendment and the end of slavery, and shows how many of the injustices and hardships that Americans faced in the past are still prevalent today. It also examines how women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community used the 14th amendment to achieve equality, and court rulings that subverted the 14th amendment’s promises and the civil rights movement.
“Amend” is a must-watch for anyone interested in learning more about the concept of freedom in American history, how this term has evolved throughout the years and the centuries of discrimination and injustice that many Americans have endured in the fight for equality. The United States was built on the idea of independence and opportunity, yet “Amend” sheds light on how many people within the United States have not been able to equally enjoy these freedoms.
Thumbnail image courtesy of @Netflix on YouTube.