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‘The Gilded Age’ provides rare view of 19th century Black elite


In HBO’s new series “The Gilded Age,” a frequently glossed-over aspect of Black history is put in the spotlight. Textbooks documenting this time in history would have you believe that the era’s rapid economic and social growth can be credited solely to the likes of Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. In truth, people of color also made significant contributions to the American economy of the 19th century and its vast accumulation of wealth, reports NBC BLK.

With its small lineup of impressive Black characters, “The Gilded Age” highlights a time in history when African Americans did more than just escape to New York to seize their freedom — they made history.

Episode four of the new series (brought to life by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes) dives deeper into this overlooked aspect of history by way of the character Peggy Scott (Denée Benton). The episode takes us away from the gold-lacquered neighborhood where the White elites live, and to the thriving African American community where Peggy was raised and her family lives. Peggy’s parents own a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone (complete with staff) and are educated and business-minded. They are an example of their environment, where African American men and women formed social clubs, threw opulent celebrations and flourished. Peggy’s father, Arthur (John Douglas Thompson), owns a pharmacy and her mother, Dorothy (Audra McDonald), is a pianist.

In many ways, the Scott family’s appearance in the new series works to challenge previously instilled lessons of what African Americans accomplished during this time. Speaking to “Today,”, Benton explained that the show brought on a new understanding of people of color during this time.

“There’s so many limiting perspectives for Black people and Black artists, what we take in from the media, from our history books about what we can and can’t be,” Benton said. “The idea of being the first is kind of this illusion that keeps you cut off from your power and from your history. I always dealt with not quite feeling like I belonged. Then I saw Peggy and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve always existed.’”