Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History

(PBS, 9-10:30 p.m.): While millions of black people were slaves in the United States in the 19th century, one of the most eloquent and credible voices arguing against that institution was a man who had been a slave himself.

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and used the impressive power of his oratory and writing to promote social change, before and after abolition. Some people - reflecting the views of the times - found it hard to accept that so impressive a man could have once been a slave.

This documentary - curiously one of the very first to treat this irresistible subject so fully - was produced and directed by Orlando Bagwell, who was also responsible for public TV's ``Malcolm X'' and ``Eyes on the Prize.'' The program profiles Douglass and examines his role in heated issues of abolition, civil rights, and the American Constitution, as well as his work as a journalist and diplomat.

With fascinating old photos, interviews, and footage of places where Douglass lived and worked, the program covers both well-known and not-so-well-known aspects of his life. Among the latter are his role in the women's suffrage movement and his political activism.

Charles Dutton is the voice of Douglass in the show, and Alfre Woodard narrates.


Bugsy (NBC, 8-11 p.m.): This multi-Oscar-winning film about the infamous gangster Benjamin Siegel stars Warren Beatty in the title role and Annette Bening as his wife.

The action covers Bugsy's efforts to get a toehold in West Coast organized crime, which required his becoming a player in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Ultimately he dreamed of building a casino-hotel in a desert spot that later became Las Vegas. Comedy figures in the critical success of the film, especially scenes of Siegel's farcical efforts at self-improvement.

Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, and Joe Mantegna also star.

Please check local listings for these programs.

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