Creating a Digital Museum to Memorialize America’s Slave Past

Art historian Renée Ater reflects on how pain and reconciliation coexist at the Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial in Virginia and other monuments to slavery. By Chelika Yapa Scholar James Young once posed this provocative question: How does a nation memorialize a past it might rather forget? Art historian Renée Ater is exploring this question[…]

Muslims and the First Recorded Slave Revolt in the New World, 1522

Charles V blamed the revolt on their radical ideology rather than the harsh realities of living a life of slavery. On Christmas Day, 1522, 20 enslaved Muslim Africans used machetes to attack their Christian masters on the island of Hispaniola, then governed by the son of Christopher Columbus. The assailants, condemned to the grinding toil[…]

Social and Economic Factors in the Reconstruction Era

Reconstruction’s influence of and effects upon religion, education, industry, and taxation. Organized Religion Freedmen were very active in forming their own churches, mostly Baptist or Methodist, and giving their ministers both moral and political leadership roles. In a process of self-segregation, practically all blacks left white churches so that few racially integrated congregations remained (apart[…]

A History of Reconstruction after the Civil War

The of the aftermath of the Civil War and the brief attempt to “reconstruct” the U.S. South on the basis of democracy and political equality for the freed Black slaves. The formal emancipation of African American slaves and the victory of the Union Army in the Civil War constituted a significant but incomplete advance for[…]

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the first monument to commemorate the over 4,000 African Americans who were lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950. Introduction Located in Montgomery, Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the first monument to commemorate the over 4,000 African Americans who were lynched[…]

Why Abolitionist Frederick Douglass Loved the Photograph

He considered it the most democratic of arts and a crucial aid in the quest to end slavery and achieve civil rights. Suddenly, it seems, the camera has become a potent weapon in what many see as the beginning of a new civil rights movement. It’s become a familiar tale: Increasingly, blacks won’t leave home[…]

Enslaved Labor and Building the Smithsonian: Reading the Stones

Examining evidence that enslaved persons were involved in the construction of the original Smithsonian Building in Washington, D.C. Many enslaved workers who labored at the Maryland quarry from which all the building’s “freestone” or sandstone blocks were obtained had roots in enslaved families owned by Martha Custis Washington at Mt. Vernon. And what erudition. He[…]

James Madison on Slavery and the Electoral College

The Electoral College may not have been expressly designed only to protect African slavery, but based on Madison’s notes, it was the mode most preferred by pro-slavery forces. Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University, just announced in a New York Times op-ed that he retracted his earlier opinion[…]

The Three-Fifths Compromise and the Origins of the Electoral College

The 1787 debate over how slaves would be counted when determining a state’s total population for legislative representation and taxes. Introduction The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise reached among state delegates during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention. Whether, and if so, how, slaves would be counted when determining a state’s total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes was important,[…]

Slavery’s Traces: In Search of Ashley’s Sack

Until now, Ashley’s identity has been unknown. Overview One of the most enigmatic objects on display in South Carolina’s Middleton Place, this unbleached cotton sack features an embroidered text recounting the slave sale of a nine-year-old girl named Ashley and the gift of the sack by her mother. Until now, Ashley’s identity has been unknown.[…]

Things You May Not Know about Slavery in British North America

Exploring common misconceptions about slavery in the American colonies. While there are many misconceptions about this time period in American history, some of the most egregious surround the institution of slavery in the mainland colonies of British North America. It is common to read back into colonial times an understanding of slavery that is based[…]

Trying the Dark: Mammoth Cave and the Racial Imagination, 1839–1869

Examining the diverse body of cultural artifacts against the backdrop of Mammoth Cave as a site of American slavery. Overview In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave was a popular tourist destination for travelers from around the United States and beyond. The cave also functioned during these years as a dynamic[…]

Inside the Jackson Tract: The Battle Over Peonage Labor Camps in Southern Alabama, 1906

Exploring the history of post-slavery labor, the harsh conditions of labor camps, and efforts to end the peonage system. Introduction On a warm spring day in 1904, former governor of Maryland and lumberman E. E. Jackson, along with several associates, traveled to Alabama to view their extensive holdings of southern yellow pine forests. The party took[…]

To Free or Not to Free: Thomas Jefferson’s Lukewarm Stance on Slavery

Jefferson’s reasoning centered on generational sovereignty and timeliness. It is often acknowledged that Jefferson did much in his years prior to his retirement from political activity to try to eradicate the institution of slavery. Writes Gilbert Chinard in Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism: No New Englander had done more to promote the cause of[…]

An Accurate Historical Understanding of the Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad activists and fugitive slaves had to improvise in response to ever-shifting circumstances. When I’ve used that line over the years in speaking to audiences about the loosely-organized network that aided runaway slaves in the pre-Civil War U.S., it has usually elicited surprise.  Since slavery ended, most Americans have come to view the Underground Railroad[…]

Seeds of Rebellion in Plantation Fiction: Victor Séjour’s ‘The Mulatto’

Through its representation of physical and psychological effects, Séjour’s story inaugurated the literary delineation of slavery’s submission-rebellion binary. By Dr. Ed PiacentinoProfessor Emeritus of EnglishHigh Point University Overview This essay examines Victor Séjour’s “The Mulatto” (1837), a short story acknowledged as the first fictional work by an African American. Through its representation of physical and[…]

The Emergence of the Border South in the 19th Century

The rise of the Border South in the nineteenth century as a section was accompanied by conflict over slavery. It was a geopolitical region whose complexities of identity, commerce, and family make it both deeply Southern and at points open to other regions, cultures, and influences. Defining the Border Anyone who has lived for a[…]

A Bill of Lading Delivers the Goods: The Constitutionality and Effect of the Emancipation Proclamation

A bill of lading is a document issued by a carrier to a shipper acknowledging receipt of goods for transit. This greatest of all bills of lading was constitutionally issued by the Union’s helmsman. And it delivered the goods. By James A. Dueholm, J.D. Introduction On January 31, 1865, Congress adopted the Thirteenth Amendment, which[…]

Deadly Notes: Atlantic Soundscapes and the Writing of the Middle Passage

The ships traveling the pathways of the Middle Passage—and beyond—were anything but silent spaces. “A Kind of Chorus” [S]ince speech was forbidden, slaves camouflaged the word under the provocative intensity of the scream. No one could translate the meaning of what seemed to be nothing but a shout. It was taken to be nothing but[…]

Voices in the Campaign for Abolition

From the mid-18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. This article describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery. Introduction Slavery in the Atlantic world was more complex than history books can readily convey. Most enslaved people[…]

Maria Stewart: The First Black Feminist-Abolitionist in America

Nearly two centuries before Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first black woman elected to the U.S Congress in November, Maria Stewart took the stage of Franklin Hall in Boston in 1833. By Jeff Biggers / 12.09.2018Historian and Journalist Nearly two centuries before Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first black woman elected to the U.S Congress in[…]