Episode four looks at Civil War and Reconstruction through the experiences of South Carolina slave Robert Smalls. It chronicles Smalls' daring escape to freedom, his military service, and his tenure as a congressman after the war. As the events of Smalls' life unfold, the complexities of this period in American history are revealed. The episode shows the transformation of the war from a struggle for union to a battle over slavery. It examines the black contribution to the war effort and traces the gains and losses of newly freed African Americans during Reconstruction. The 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865, the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteed black civil rights, and the Freedmen's Bureau offered aid to former slaves throughout the 1870s.
Yet simultaneously, the formation of militant groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan threatened the future of racial equality and segregation laws began to appear across the country. Slavery's eradication had not brought an end to black oppression.