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[…]

Fugitive Slave Ads and the Roots of Black Resistance in the United States

Freedom on the Move is a database collecting these ads, which help form a more complete picture of slavery and the enslaved. a more than 200-year-old fugitive slave ad reads:  “Run away from the subscriber in Albemarle, a Mulatto slave called Sandy. His stature is rather low, inclining to corpulence, and his complexion light; he[…]

History, the KKK, and Christianity

Nationalism (or “100% Americanism”), Protestant Christianity, and white supremacy became inextricably linked. Randall J. Stephens responds to Kelly J. Baker’s essay, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy,” which is featured in the June issue of the Forum. Baker’s essay considers how discussions about racism—and white supremacy in particular—tend to treat it as a matter of belief,[…]

Celebrating Freedom: The Emancipation Proclamation Expanding a Founding Ideal

The meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation, for those at the time and for us today. As he stood before hundreds of rapt listeners at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Congressman John Lewis took a moment to reflect on the opening passage of the Declaration of Independence. Echoing others who have spoken from the steps,[…]

A Voyage to Freedom: The Escape of Robert Smalls in the Civil War

Robert Smalls commandeered a Confederate ship to escape from slavery in South Carolina. By Meredith Good Two long pulls and a jerk at the whistle cord: That produced the sound echoing in the dark salty air on May 13, 1862, as the CSS Planter stealthily glided against the tide of Charleston Harbor, passing Fort Sumter. This signal[…]

Black Lives at Arlington National Cemetery: From Slavery to Segregation

Insights into the lives of African Americans at Arlington and other plantations in the Upper South before and after the Civil War. In the following excerpt from Civil War Places, William A. Blair reads the inscriptions on the headstones in Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery for insights into the lives of African Americans at[…]

Jim Crow Laws and the American Experience

It would take several decades of legal action and years of nonviolent direct action to spark real change. Introduction The segregation and disenfranchisement laws known as “Jim Crow” represented a formal, codified system of racial apartheid that dominated the American South for three quarters of a century beginning in the 1890s. The laws affected almost[…]

Jim Crow and Racial Segregation after 1876

It was not until 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education and later 1964 with the Civil Rights Act that these laws were finally abolished. Introduction Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States after 1876 requiring the separation of African-Americans from white Americans[…]

A History of Racial Segregation in the United States

De facto segregation continues today because of both contemporary behavior and the historical legacy of de jure segregation. Introduction Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, refers to the segregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation in the United States along racial lines. The[…]

Caribbean Histories: Early Migration to Slavery to 20th-Century Transitions

Introduction From the start of European expansion into the Atlantic world, Britain fought other powers for territory in the Caribbean and many islands became part of the British Empire. The region experienced near eradication and expulsion of its indigenous populations by European powers. It was also on the receiving end of the largest enforced migration[…]

A History of Abolitionism in the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The worldwide movement against slavery (still not entirely eliminated) can be seen as a coming of age for humanity. 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 abolitionists,[…]

Slavery before the Trans-Atlantic Trade

Almost all peoples have been both slaves and slaveholders at some point in their histories. Introduction Various forms of slavery, servitude, or coerced human labor existed throughout the world before the development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century. As historian David Eltis explains, “almost all peoples have been both slaves and slaveholders[…]

Henry Box Brown’s Escape from Slavery

By 1851, Brown was internationally well known. This article, The Narrative of Henry Box Brown (1849), was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Henry Brown was born a slave, sometime around 1815, in Louisa County, Virginia. After the farmer who owned[…]

South to Freedom: Slave Routes to Mexico on the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad didn’t just head North – also led to Mexico. 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[…]

The Anti-Slavery Movement in Chicago and Illinois, 1830-1850

How did the abolitionist movement evolve and respond to national events that shook the nation in the 1850s? Introduction Illinois was never a slave state, but there were struggles within the state between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 stated that slavery would not exist in the states that[…]

Hannah: Andrew Jackson’s Slave and Stockholm Syndrome

A favorite of Old Hickory, she made him seem kinder than he was. Why? Though he no longer holds an exalted place in the American imagination, Andrew Jackson continues to draw attention. Witness Jon Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Lion, which chronicled the triumphs and travails of the seventh president’s two administrations. No less interesting, if[…]