I've seen several of Neil Oliver's other programs he's made for the BBC and quite enjoyed them. I found them enlightening, informative, and well made. This program simply wasn't up to those standards.
First, I will admit, that as a Southerner, I do get a little touchy about outsiders coming to the South and pointing fingers at us and saying what horrible people we were in the past, and then showing almost exclusively interviews with contemporary Southerners who have the "moonlight and magnolias" (aka Gone with the Wind) vision of what the Antebellum South was like. Yes, I am a Southerner, and yes, I am descended on both sides of my family from both slave owners and Confederate soldiers. I also have a Ph.D in American Studies, have studied and taught college courses on slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, contemporary hate groups, and other social justice issues and reconciliation for 15 years. I can't change what my ancestors did. I can, in my own way, however, try to make reparations.
The fact that the person who said that a lot of people owned plantations was an older white reenactor should have set some bells off in Dr. Oliver's head. In actuality, most slaves were part of small to medium sized farms, where they worked closely with their owner's family members. Large plantations were the exception, not the norm. Dr. Oliver also neglects to point out that less than two weeks after the carnage -and decisive Union victory - at Gettysburg, on July 13, 1863, Anti-Draft agitators in New York City raged through lower Manhattan killing approximately 120 and injuring 2000 African Americans. Why? They didn't buy the Union line that the war was to save the Union. Their stated objection was that they wouldn't die to free the slaves. Remember, this was only six months after the Emancipation Proclamation.
This is ultimately my issue with Dr. Oliver's treatment of race relations in America. They aren't, and NEVER HAVE BEEN, a strictly southern issue. Slavery wasn't introduced to the colonies by colonists, it was introduced by the English, and agents of the crown, and Good Queen Bess I herself profited from the slave trade, as did King James I/VI of Bible translation fame. Remember, one of the accused witches in Puritan Salem was a West Indian slave named Tituba. At the time of the Civil War, slavery and the raw materials it produced were, at some level, at the heart of every major sector of the American economy. The North relied on the raw materials produced by the slave labor and the land of the South. There were people, mostly in the South, but also in the North, who believed that Blacks were the offspring of Ham and therefore cursed by God with enslavement for Ham's sin. Just as there were Southerners who thought slavery was a sin and refused to own them. Dr. Oliver has taken what would need to be a doctoral level course to do it justice, and tried to turn it into an hour long tv show, and ends up coming off as a naive historian, which he certainly isn't, and which his other work clearly illustrates.
Furthermore, if Dr. Oliver had stuck with the idea "where did the clan in the Klan come from," I think he would have been much more successful. All it takes is a cursory glance at even the earliest writings about the "new world" to hear the native people described as certainly something other than 15th or 16th Century Europeans, even when they are being described in positive terms, much less as the savage barbarians described in the very popular captivity naratives that came later.
He's on to something when he and Hill are talking about "Clan vs. Other." Certainly the whole attitude towards Native Americans by the colonists were governed by this view of them as the other. The fact is that American history has been greatly influenced by the Scots and the Scots-Irish. And who was it who ordered the removal of the (widely) assimilated Cherokee on the infamous Trail of Tears? A child of Scots-Irish immigrants to what would become Tennessee, Andrew Jackson. Certainly there's a parallel in the Scots being sent over to Ulster and displacing the Irish peasantry from their land in an English bid for control over the unruly Irish through a land grab, and then the poor Scots-Irish Ulstermen coming here and displacing the wealthy but still "other" Cherokee from their land through a land grab...
He also ignores the fact that a significant number of lynchings occurred outside the South, the states with the most Klan members in the 20s were in the Midwest, and there were many more "sundown towns" (towns where blacks were forbidden after dark on pain of punishment or death) outside the South than in it - in the South the demographics and ubiquity
of African American domestic workers made sundown towns simply unworkable.
He also ignores the fact that in areas of the country where other minorities were more predominant, such as Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, etc., there were often discriminatory laws and practices directed towards them as well. Note the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese Internment Camps, hospitals where Jewish doctors weren't allowed to practice, neighborhoods with anti-Jewish covenants, laws against non-native born people owning land, the discrimination against the Irish in the Northeast, the discriminatory immigration quotas against Southern and Eastern Europeans, the poor, the uneducated, non- Christians, and indigenous peoples from anywhere.
In the end, I think he might be on to something, but he just lost his focus, which is easy to do when dealing with a subject as complex as this.