Paying Reparations to Slave Owners and Their Heirs in the 19th Century

History is full of examples of nations paying out to compensate for slavery. But the money never went to those who actually suffered. Extorting Haiti A prominent example is the so-called “Haitian Independence Debt” that saddled revolutionary Haiti with reparation payments to former slave owners in France. Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, but[…]

White Mob Riots in Washington in 1848 to Defend Slaveholders’ Rights

Riots by proslavery forces raged for three days in the nation’s capital after the capture of a ship bearing fugitive enslaved people. By Dr. Michael David CohenResearch Professor of GovernmentAmerican University Introduction Long before the demonstrations over Black Lives Matter, long before the marches of the civil rights era, strife over racism convulsed the nation’s[…]

No Pensions for Ex-Slaves: How Federal Agencies Suppressed Movement to Aid Freedpeople

The movement to grant pensions to ex-slaves faced strong opposition from three executive branch agencies. By Miranda Booker Perry Introduction The Union victory in the Civil War helped pave the way for the 13th amendment to formally abolish the practice of slavery in the United States. But following their emancipation, most former slaves had no[…]

Sur a la Libertad! – When Slaves Headed South to Freedom in Mexico

The flight of runaway slaves to Mexico is a chapter of history that is often overlooked or ignored. Introduction In a forgotten cemetery on the edge of Texas in the Rio Grande delta, Olga Webber-Vasques says she’s proud of her family’s legacy — even if she only just learned the full story. Turns out her[…]

A History of Slavery in Colonial New Spain and Afro-Mexican Identity

There are three main periods that describe the trajectory of African enslavement in New Spain from 1519 to 1827. By Jacqueline Galindo Valadez Overview Exploring the enslavement of Africans and their historical experiences/contributions, as well as Afro-Mexican’s current lived experiences centered on identity. It is critical to explore Afro-Mexicans’ legacies (both in the past and[…]

The Everyday Resistance of Enslaved Women

Studying history is like detective work—especially when the rebellion of Black women has been left out of the story. In her new book, A Kick in the Belly, Afrocentric British historian Stella Dadzie describes how her research into slavery-era documents reveals the lives of enslaved Black women in the Caribbean colonies and the American South.[…]

“Incited by the Love of Liberty”: The ‘Amistad’ Captives and the Courts

From the time that the Amistad captives arrived in the United States, their quest for freedom played out within the federal court system. On August 29, 1839, a lone West African man named Sengbe Pieh stood in shackles before a special session of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Judge Andrew Judson[…]

John Brown: Blazing a Moral Path for the Cautious Lincoln to End Slavery

President Lincoln was a statesman. John Brown was a radical. That’s the traditional view of how each one fought slavery. Introduction One of the most underappreciated figures in the nation’s history, John Brown, has been introduced to Americans by the Showtime series “The Good Lord Bird,” based on the James McBride novel of the same[…]

George Washington in 1786 on the Abolition of Slavery

Of the nine presidents who were slaveholders, only George Washington freed all his own slaves upon his death. Before the Revolution, Washington, like most white Americans, took slavery for granted. At the time of the Revolution, one-fifth of the colonies’ population lived in bondage. Although most slaves were in the South, slavery was a legal[…]

‘Blood on the River’: A Slave Rebellion in Early Modern Guyana

The slave revolt in Berbice, modern-day Guyana, was unusual for its length and near success. Introduction The consequences of 400 years of the Atlantic slave trade are still felt today. Untangling the power structures and systemic racism that came with slavery is ongoing, with police brutality, memorials to slave owners and reparations forming part of the discussion. But as the[…]

South to Freedom: The Underground Railroad’s Other Direction

The Underground Railroad also led to Mexico. By Martin Kohn The Underground Railroad also ran south—not back toward slave-owning states but away from them to Mexico, which began to restrict slavery in the 1820s and finally abolished it in 1829, some thirty-four years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This may be history, but it comes[…]

The Story of Caesar, an Enslaved Chef and Chocolatier in Colonial Virginia

In a bittersweet history, the story of enslaved chocolatier Caesar shows the oppression that lay behind the elite’s culinary treat. Introduction The holidays are approaching, and among the many treats of the season are chocolate and hot cocoa. While these traditions provide a hefty dose of sugar, there’s a bittersweet side to chocolate’s history, too.[…]

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Dangerous Precedent of Appeasement

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the westward expansion of slavery would lead to the “[death] knell of the Union.” Compromise or Appeasement? Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and aged leader of his party, wrote during the Missouri Controversy of 1820 that the westward expansion of slavery would lead to the “[death] knell of[…]

The Revolutionary Summer of 1862: How Congress Abolished Slavery

Secession and the Civil War were about slavery and race. Introduction In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln recalled, “All knew that” the “peculiar and powerful interest” in slaves “was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even[…]

John Brown’s “Tragic Prelude” to the U.S. Civil War

John Brown first became a nationally known figure in 1856 through his actions in the Kansas Territory, three years before Harper’s Ferry. Who Was John Brown? “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” John Brown, shortly before his execution, 1859[…]

Ending the Bloodshed: The Last Surrenders of the Civil War

Not until sixteen months after Appomattox, on August 20, 1866, did the President formally declare an end to the war. Introduction Appomattox. To many Americans the word Appomattox is synonymous with the end of the Civil War. The war, however, did not officially conclude at that tiny village west of Petersburg, Virginia. But what happened[…]

Jane and Cicely: Massachusetts Slaves Who Died of an Epidemic in 1714

The lives, labor, and sacrifices of women and girls of color have been overlooked for centuries. Introduction What I believe to be the oldest surviving gravestone for a Black person in the Americas memorializes an enslaved teenager named Cicely. Cicely’s body is interred across from Harvard’s Johnston Gate in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She died in 1714 during a[…]

Spartacus and the Impact of His Uprising on Ancient Rome

It led to the rise of Crassus and the devastation of much of southern Italy. By Dr. Edward Whelan and Eric Lambrecht Introduction One of the best-known figures in antiquity was Spartacus. His brilliance as a military tactician and strategist was recognized even by his enemies. He was a gladiator and the leader of the[…]

The Little-Known Role of Slavery in Medieval Viking Society

The institution of slavery had long antecedents in Scandinavia, probably going back thousands of years before the time of the Vikings. One of the most enduring components of the Viking image is the notion of freedom—the adventure of a far horizon and all that went with it. But for many, this was an unattainable hope.[…]

Abolitionism in the 18th and 19th Centuries

The truth, self-evident, that all men are created equal, has not always been so self-evident for many humans throughout history. Introduction Abolitionism (from “abolish”) was a political movement in late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that sought to end the practice of slavery and the worldwide slave trade. Its chief impetus came from Protestantism, as most[…]

A History of Reconstruction

African Americans gained political power yet faced the backlash of white supremacy and racial violence. Introduction I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about Black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.” Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six[…]

The Civil War Diarist Who Chronicled the Confederacy’s Fall

Raised in plantation privilege, Mary Boykin Chestnut was unprepared for the trauma of war and defeat. “February 18, 1861…. I do not allow myself vain regrets or sad foreboding. This Southern Confederacy must be supported now by calm determination and cool brains. We have risked all, and we must play our best, for the stake[…]

African American Spirituals: From Cotton Fields to Concert Halls

After the Civil War, touring groups of black college singers popularized slavery-era songs, giving rise to a new musical genre. “Swing low, sweet chariot….” These words are familiar to many Americans, who might sing them in worship, in Sunday school, around campfires, in school, and in community choruses. But the black singers responsible for introducing[…]

Christianity Used as a Justification for Slavery in 19th-Century America

White Christian slaveholders argued that slavery was a necessary evil because it would control the sinful, less humane, black race. Slave owners had many justifications for why holding people in bondage was acceptable. From the idea that African Americans were a lesser race who needed taking care of by white patriarchs to the economic justification,[…]

The Bostonian Who Armed the Anti-Slavery Settlers in ‘Bleeding Kansas’

Amos Lawrence backed abolitionist pioneers in the town that bears his name. On May 24, 1854, Anthony Burns, a young African-American man, was captured on his way home from work. He had escaped from slavery in Virginia and had made his way to Boston, where he was employed in a men’s clothing store. His owner[…]

How Abolitionists Fought – and Lost – the Battle with America’s Sweet Tooth

Cane sugar was the source of oppression and bitter opposition before cotton became the symbol of American slavery. Today, land developer and businessman William Cooper is best known for founding Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But back in the 1790s, Cooper was a judge and a congressman who used his[…]

The Woman Who Boycotted Sugar to Abolish Slavery in the British Empire

Exploring the first boycott against sugar made with slave labor in the West Indies. Introduction While many companies have trumpeted their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, others are beginning to face consumer pressure for not appearing to do enough. For example, some people are advocating a consumer boycott of Starbucks over an internal[…]