The Lasting Legacy of Slavery and Those Who Fought It

shacklesTonight (January 8th, 2013) brings the premiere of the new PBS American Experience miniseries, “The Abolitionists.” The historical series details the lives of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, and their historic efforts to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the United States.

This mini-series is just one piece in what seems to be a newly renewed interest in a sad period of American history where it was legal to own slaves, and a war had to be fought to guarantee the freedom of an entire segment of the U.S. population. In movie theaters, two recent hits are Lincoln (about President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment which permanently outlawed slavery) and Django Unchained (about a former slave seeking vengeance). Number two on the New York Times best seller list of paperback nonfiction is Team of Rivals, the Lincoln biography that inspired the film Lincoln. Later this year will see the release of the independent film Twelve Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt. The film is an adaptation of the famous memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a free born black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

What is behind this renewed interest in the Slavery era and the Civil War? Why are people today suddenly so drawn towards looking back at this horrific period in American history? It’s hard to say. January 1, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it’s certainly more than that. Perhaps in this time, in which we feel irrevocably divided as a country politically, there are lessons to be learned from a period where a moral argument led to a war between the states. Maybe as we continue into the second term of the United States’ first black president, we can look back at a time when people were bought, sold, tortured, and killed just for the color of their skin, and see how far we’ve come, and unfortunately how much further we have to go.

Today (January 8th) also marks the 202nd anniversary of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. Though fifty years before the Civil War, this event showed the considerable discontent and anger amongst American slaves. The story of this uprising will be covered in an upcoming book from Morgan Reynolds Publishing detailing a number of North American slave rebellions. The book is being written by David Aretha who wrote a number of acclaimed titles from Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Civil Rights Movement series. The book will be one of six in a series about slavery, from it’s beginnings in Africa to an examination of slave life and culture, set to be published in Fall 2013.

For more reading about this time period and the abolitionists who helped change the nation, check out The Liberator: The Story of William Lloyd Garrison (ISBN 978-1-59935-137-7 ) and Unbound and Unbroken: The Story of Frederick Douglass (ISBN 978-1-59935-136-0), both by Amos Esty, from your local library, or purchase them from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

– Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

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“Slavery made the world Thomas Jefferson knew.”-Paradox of Liberty exhibition website

Thomas Jefferson

“At any one time, about 130 enslaved men, women, and children lived and worked at [Thomas Jefferson’s] Monticello,” according to Monticello.org.

There is currently an exhibition at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., entitled Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty. 

According to the Smithsonian’s website, “This exhibition explores slavery and enslaved people in America through the lens of Jefferson’s Monticello plantation…. The exhibition provides a glimpse into the lives of six slave families … living at Monticello and reveals how the paradox of slavery in Jefferson’s world is relevant for generations beyond Jefferson’s lifetime.”

According to Nancy Whitelaw, author of Thomas Jefferson: Philosopher and President, Jefferson was full of contradictions. “He depended on slave labor to maintain his affluent lifestyle,” she wrote, “but he wrote movingly about the importance of ending slavery.”

At the same time, however, abolishing slavery all together was irresponsible, Jefferson thought. He once said, “As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made, to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children.”

The exhibition’s website says, “Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration and called slavery an ‘abominable crime,’ yet he was a lifelong slaveholder. Fearful of dividing the fragile new nation, Jefferson and other founders who opposed slavery did not insist on abolishing it.”

The exhibition will run until October 12, 2012. So if you are in the D.C. area, go check it out!

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information about Thomas Jefferson, check out Nancy Whitelaw’s Thomas Jefferson: Philosopher and President (9781883846811)

Published in: on June 8, 2012 at 11:13 am  Comments (1)  
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