The PBS premiere episode begins with the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction, periods that held so much promise for free black men and women. But as the North gradually withdrew its support for black aspirations for land, civil and political rights, and legal due process, Southern whites succeeded in passing laws that segregated and disfranchised African Americans, laws that were reinforced with violence and terror tactics. By 1876, Reconstruction was over.
"Promises Betrayed" recounts black response by documenting the work of such leaders as activist/separatist Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, as well as the emergence of Booker T. Washington as a national figure.