Teaching about Slavery in the Fifth Grade

Alan Singer
Hofstra University

United States history is usually taught in fifth grade. One of the more difficult topics to teach with sensitivity and critically is about the enslavement of African Americans in British North America and the United States. Elementary school teachers that I work with often have only a superficial knowledge of history at best, particularly topics like slavery, which means that if they decide to teach about it they are drawn to packaged lessons. Many are afraid to even touch the topic because of news stories about teachers challenged by parents and administrators, and even removed, because of inappropriate lessons.

In response, I developed a series of full class and group based lessons. While I think it is important to help students understand the horror and injustice of enslavement, they also need to learn how people, both Black and white, risked their lives in the struggle to end it. A focus on abolitionists also addresses other key social studies goals including understanding what it means to be an active citizen in a democratic society and writing more women into the history curriculum.

I use a close reading and textual analysis of three songs from slavery days, “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “Go Down Moses,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, to introduce three major themes. “All the Pretty Little Horses”is the story of a mother separated from her child and is about the sorry and injustice of being enslaved. “Go Down Moses” is a religious allegory, nominally about the enslavement of Israelites in Egypt, but really about the desire of enslaved Africans for freedom. “Follow the Drinking Gourd” tells the story of the Underground Railroad as a pathway to freedom. Versions of the songs are available on Youtube. I recommend Odetta singing “All the Pretty Little Horses,” Paul Robeson singing “Go Down Moses,” and Richie Havens’ version of “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

Virginia Hamilton’s story “The People Could Fly” lends itself to reenactment as a play. It introduces slavery as an oppressive work system, explores the horrors of enslavement, and shows the resistance to bondage. Based on a traditional folktale, it ends with enslaved Africans on a cotton plantation in the South rediscovering the magic of flight to escape enslavement and return to Africa. I have performed this play successfully with students in grades 5 to 8. Some classes have opened and closed with performances of African dance.

The package “Abolitionists who fought to end slavery” opens with a full class lesson on abolitionists. It includes an early photograph that records an anti-slavery meeting in August 1850 in Cazenovia, New York. The meeting was called to protest against a proposed new federal Fugitive Slave law. Participants in the meeting included Frederick Douglass. The lesson includes a map of Underground Railroad routes through the New Jersey and New York. It concludes with instructions for the “Abolitionist Project.” Each team studies about one of ten leading abolitionists who fought against slavery. They produce a PowerPoint with between five and ten slides about their abolitionist’s life and achievements; create a tee-shirt, poster, or three-dimensional display featuring the life of their abolitionist; and write a poem, letter, skit, rap, or song about their abolitionist. The team’s PowerPoint and creative activities are presented to the class.

Traditional African American Songs from the Era of Slavery

A) All the Pretty Little Horses – The key to understanding this lullaby is that there are two babies.

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry, go to sleep my little baby,

When you wake, you shall have, all the pretty little horses,

Blacks and bays, dapples and grays, all the pretty little horses.

Way down yonder, in the meadow, lies my poor little lambie,

With bees and butterflies peckin’ out its eyes,

The poor little things crying Mammy.

Questions

  1. Who are the two babies in this lullaby? Which baby is the woman singing to?
  2. Why do you think the woman was assigned to care for this baby?
  3. What does this song tell us about the experience of enslaved Africans?

B) Go Down, Moses – This song is an African American version of Exodus from the Old Testament.

When Israel was in Egypt land, Let my people go.

Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

“Thus spoke the Lord,” bold Moses said, Let my people go.

“If not, I’ll smite your first-born dead.” Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

Old Pharaoh said he’d go across, Let my people go.

But Pharaoh and his host were lost, Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil, Let my people go.

They shall go forth with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

Questions

  1. What does Moses say to Pharaoh?
  2. Why do you think enslaved African Americans sang a song about ancient Israelites?
  3. What does this song tell us about the experience of enslaved Africans?

C) Follow the Drinking Gourd– This song is supposed to contain an oral map of the Underground Railroad. The “drinking gourd” is the star constellation known as the Big Dipper.

When the sun comes up and the first quail calls, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

Chorus- Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

The river bank will make a mighty good road, the dead trees will show you the way,

Left foot, peg foot, travelin’ on, follow the drinking gourd.

Chorus- Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

The river ends between two hills, follow the drinking gourd,

There’s another river on the other side, follow the drinking gourd.

Chorus- Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

Questions

  1. Why does the song tell passengers on the Underground Railroad to follow the “drinking gourd”?
  2. Why would runaway slaves prefer an oral map to a written map?
  3. What does this song tell us about the experience of enslaved Africans?

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The People Could Fly – A Play

Based on a story from the book, The People Could Fly, American Black Folktales byVirginia Hamilton (New York: Random House, 1993)

Background: Toby and Sarah stand in the middle bending over to pick cotton. The overseer and master loom in the background, either as giant puppets or as large images on a screen (scanned from the book). A leather belt imitates the sound of a whip. The play illustrates the oppression of slavery and the desire of enslaved Africans for freedom. The play follows the original story very closely.

Cast: 12 Narrators, Sarah, Toby, Overseer, Master

Materials: Belt for cracking like a whip, baby doll for Sarah, two giant puppets (water jugs attached to a broom stick, tape on a wire hanger and provide a long sleeve shirt)

Narrator 1: They say the people could fly. Say that along ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbing up on a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields. Black, shiny wings flapping against the blue up there. Then, many of the people were captured for Slavery. The ones that could fly shed their wings. They couldn’t take their wings across the water on the slave ships. Too crowded, don’t you know. The folks were full of misery, then. Got sick with the up and down of the sea. So they forgot about flying when they could no longer breathe the sweet scent of Africa.

Narrator 2: Say the people who could fly kept their power, although they shed their wings. They kept their secret magic in the land of slavery. They looked the same as the other people from Africa who had been coming over, who had dark skin. Say you couldn’t tell anymore one who could fly from one who couldn’t. One such who could was an old man, call him Toby. And standing tall, yet afraid, was a young woman who once had wings. Call her Sarah. Now Sarah carried a babe tied to her back. She trembled to be so hard worked and scorned. The slaves labored in the fields from sunup to sundown. The owner of the slaves calling himself their Master. Say he was a hard lump of clay. A hard, glinty coal. A hard rock pile, wouldn’t be moved.

Narrator 3: His Overseer on horseback pointed out the slaves who were slowing down. So the one called Driver cracked his whip over the slow ones to make them move faster. That whip was a slice-open cut of pain. So they did move faster. Had to. Sarah hoed and chopped the row as the babe on her back slept. Say the child grew hungry. That babe started up bawling too loud. Sarah couldn’t stop to feed it. Couldn’t stop to soothe and quiet it down. She let it cry. She didn’t want to. She had no heart to croon to it.

Overseer:  “Keep that thing quiet.”

Narrator 4: The Overseer, he pointed his finger at the babe. The woman scrunched low. The Driver cracked his whip across the babe anyhow. The babe hollered like any hurt child, and the woman feel to the earth. The old man that was there, Toby, came and helped her to her feet.

Sarah: “I must go soon.”

Toby:  “Soon.”

Narrator 5:  Sarah couldn’t stand up straight any longer. She was too weak. The sun burned her face. The babe cried and cried.

Sarah: “Pity me, oh, pity me.” say it sounded like. Sarah was so sad and starving, she sat down in the row.

Overseer: “Get up, you black cow.” ”

Narrator 5: The Overseer pointed his hand, and the Driver’s whip snarled around Sarah’s legs. Her sack dress tore into rags. Her legs bled onto the earth. She couldn’t get up. Toby was there where there was no one to help her and the babe.

Sarah:  “Now, before it’s too late. Now, Father!”

Toby: “Yes, Daughter, the time is come. Go, as you know how to go!” (He raised his arms, holding them out to her. ) “Kumyali, kum buba tambe. Kumyali, kum buba tambe.”

Narrator 6: The young woman lifted one foot on the air. Then the other. She flew clumsily at first, with the child now held tightly in her arms. Then she felt the magic, the African mystery. Say she rose just as free as a bird. As light as a feather. The Overseer rode after her, hollering. Sarah flew over the fences. She flew over the woods. Tall trees could not snag her. Nor could the Overseer. She flew like an eagle now, until she was gone from sight. No one dared speak about it. Couldn’t believe it. But it was, because they that was there saw that it was.

Narrator 7: Say the next day was dead hot in the fields. A young man slave fell from the heat. The Driver come and whipped him. Toby come over and spoke words to the fallen one. The words of ancient Africa once heard are never remembered completely. The young man forgot them as soon as he heard them. They went way inside him. He got up and rolled over on the air. He rode it awhile. And he flew away. Another and another fell from the heat. Toby was there. He cried out to the fallen and reached his arms out to them.

Toby:Kum kunka yali, kum … tambe!

Narrator 8: And they too rose on the air. They rode the hot breezes. The ones flying were black and shining sticks, wheeling above the head of the Overseer. They crossed the rows, the fields, the fences, the streams, and were away.

Overseer: “Seize the old man! I heard him say the magic words. Seize him!”

Narrator 9: The one calling himself Master come running. The Driver got his whip ready to curl around old Toby and tie him up. The slaveowner took his hip gun from its place. He meant to kill old, black Toby. But Toby just laughed. Say he threw back his head.

Toby: “Hee, hee! Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know some of us in this field? We are ones who fly!”

Narrator 10: And he sighed the ancient words that were a dark promise. He said them all around to the others in the field under the whip, “… buba yali … buba tambe …” There was a great outcrying. The bent backs straightened up. Old and young who were called slaves and could fly joined hands. Say like they would ring-sing. But they didn’t shuffle in a circle. They didn’t sing. They rose on the air. They flew in a flock that was black against the heavenly blue. Black crows or black shadows. It didn’t matter, they went so high. Way above the plantation, way over the slavery land. Say they flew away to Free-dom.

Narrator 11: And the old man, old Toby, flew behind them, taking care of them. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t laughing. He was the seer. His gaze fell on the plantation where the slaves who could not fly waited.

Class:  “Take us with you! Take us with you!”

Narrator 11: Their looks spoke it but they were afraid to shout it. Toby couldn’t take them with him. Hadn’t the time to teach them to fly. They must wait for a chance to run.

Toby: “Goodie-bye!”

Narrator 12: The old man called Toby spoke to them, poor souls! And he was flying gone. So they say. The Overseer told it. The one called Master said it was a lie, a trick of the light. The Driver kept his mouth shut. The enslaved Africans who could not fly told about the people who could fly to their children. When they were free. When they sat close before the fire in the free land, they told it. They did so love firelight and Free-dom, and telling. They say that the children of the ones who could not fly told their children. And now, me, I have told it to you.

Abolitionists Who Fought to End Slavery

Abolitionists fought to end slavery in the United States. Some were Black and some were white. Many were religious. Some were former slaves who had escaped from bondage. Some believed the country could change peaceably. Some believed it would not change without bloodshed. Some believed abolitionists should obey the law. Some believed abolitionists should break the law. Some wanted slavery to end at once. Some thought it could end over time. They all believed slavery in the United States was wrong and must end.

A) This early photograph records an anti-slavery meeting in August 1850 in Cazenovia, New York. Abolitionists gathered to protest against a proposed new federal Fugitive Slave Act. The act would permit federal marshals to arrest and return to slavery freedom seekers who had escaped to the North. It would also punish anyone accused to helping a fugitive by providing them with food, a place to stay, or a job.

B) Cazenovia was a small town in upstate New York near Auburn, Syracuse, and Utica and just south of the Erie Canal. Participants in the convention included Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, about 50 fugitive slaves, and more than 2,000 other people.

C) In the photograph, Frederick Douglass is the African American man seated by the table. Behind him with his arm raised is Gerrit Smith, a leading white abolitionist. On either side of Smith are Mary and Emily Edmonson. They escaped from slavery in 1848 but were recaptured and sent to New Orleans to be sold. The girls’ free-born father raised money to buy their freedom. The Edmonson’s attended college in the North and became active abolitionists.

D) Frederick Douglass, who was a former fugitive slave, presided over the convention. The convention closed with a “Letter to the American Slaves” that offered advice and help to slaves planning to rebel in the South and freedom-seekers who escaped to the North. In the letter they wrote:

1. “While such would dissuade [convince] you from all violence toward the slaveholder, let it not be supposed that they regard it as guiltier than those strifes [fights] which even good men are wont to justify. If the American revolutionists had excuse for shedding but one drop of blood, then have the American slaves excuse for making blood to flow.”

2. “The Liberty Party, the Vigilance Committee of New York, individuals, and companies [groups] of individuals in various parts of the country, are doing all they can, and it is much, to afford you a safe and a cheap passage from slavery to liberty.

3. Brethren [brothers], our last word to you is to bid you be of good cheer and not to despair of your deliverance. Do not abandon yourselves, as have many thousands of American slaves, to the crime of suicide. Live! Live to escape from slavery! Live to serve God! Live till He shall Himself call you into eternity! Be prayerful — be brave — be hopeful. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” [will be soon]

The Abolitionist Project

Instructions: Each team will study one of the leading abolitionists who fought against slavery. Start with the biography sheet for your abolitionist and conduct additional research online.

For your final project each team will create:

  1. PowerPoint with between five and ten slides about your abolitionist’s life and achievements. Your team will present this in class.
  2. A tee-shirt, poster, or three-dimensional display featuring the life of your abolitionist.
  3. A poem, letter, skit, rap, or song about your abolitionist.

Frederick Douglass: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Social Reformer, Abolitionist, Orator, Writer

1818 – Born enslaved in Maryland

1838 – Escaped from slavery

1841 – Met William Lloyd Garrison and became an active abolitionist

1845 – Published first edition of biography 1845 – Traveled to Europe to avoid re-enslavement

1847 – Returned to the United States and began publication of the abolitionist North Star in Rochester, NY

1848 – Attended the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY

1859 – Met with John Brown to plan slave rebellion. Fled to Europe to escape prosecution after Harpers Ferry.

1863 – Convinced Lincoln to enlist Black troops in the Union Army

1872 – First African American nominated for Vice President of the United States

1889 – Appointed U.S. representative to Haiti

1895 – Died in Washington DC

Famous Speech: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Frederick Douglass was asked to address the citizens of Rochester at their Fourth of July celebration in 1852. This excerpt from his speech shows his great power as an orator and the strength of his opposition to slavery.

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Henry Highland Garnet: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States


Abolitionist, Minister, Educator and Orator

1815 – Born enslaved in Maryland

1824 – Escaped with his family to New Jersey

1825 – Family settled in New York where he attended the African Free School

1828 (?) – Slavecatchers force his family to flee Brooklyn. Garnet harbored in Smithtown, NY.

1830 – Suffered serious leg injury (later amputated)

1834 – Helped found an abolitionist society

1835 – Attended interracial Noyes Academy in Connecticut that was burned down by rioters

1839 – Graduated from Oneida Theological Institute and became a Presbyterian minister in Troy, NY

1843 – Called for slave rebellion in speech at the National Negro Convention

1849 – Called free Blacks to emigrate out of the U.S.

1852 – Moved to Jamaica as a Christian Missionary

1863 – Enlisted Blacks in the Union Army. Escaped from Draft Riots.

1865 – 1st African American to preach in Capital building

1882 – Died Monrovia, Liberia

Famous Speech: “An Address to the Slaves of the United States”

From August 21-24, 1843, a National Negro Convention was held in Buffalo, New York. Delegates included Frederick Douglass. Henry Highland Garnet delivered a very militant speech calling on enslaved Africans to revolt.

It is in your power so to torment the God-cursed slaveholders that they will be glad to let you go free. If the scale was turned, and black men were the masters and white men the slaves, every destructive agent and element would be employed to lay the oppressor low. Danger and death would hang over their heads day and night. Yes, the tyrants would meet with plagues more terrible than those of Pharaoh. But you are a patient people. You act as though, you were made for the special use of these devils. You act as though your daughters were born to pamper the lusts of your masters and overseers.

Let your motto be resistance! Resistance! RESISTANCE! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you had better make, you must decide by the circumstances that surround you, and according to the suggestion of expediency. Brethren, adieu! Trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are FOUR MILLIONS.

Gerrit Smith: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States


Reformer, Abolitionist, Politician, Philanthropist

1797 – Born in Utica, NY

1818 – Graduated from Hamilton College

1819 – Managed family land-holdings in upstate NY

1828 – Became active in temperance movement

1835 – Became active as an abolitionist

1840 – Helped found anti-slavery Liberty Party

1846 – Gave land in the Adirondacks to free Blacks as homesteads

1848- His home became UGRR station

1848 – Liberty Party Candidate for President

1850s – Financially supported Frederick Douglass’ newspapers

1852 – Elected to Congress

1859 – Funded John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry

1865 – Advocated for mild treatment of the South after the Civil War

1874 – Died in New York City

Famous Speech: Statement on Slavery in Congress, April 6, 1854

Slavery is the baldest and biggest lie on earth. In reducing man to chattel, it denies, that God is God – for, in His image, made He man – the black man and the red man, as well as the white man. Distorted as our minds by prejudice, and shrivelled as are our souls by the spirit of caste, this essential equality of the varieties of the human family may not be apparent to us all.

The Constitution, the only law of the territories, is not in favor of slavery, and that slavery cannot be set up under it . . . I deny that there can be Constitutional slavery in any of the States of the American Union – future States, or present States – new or old. I hold, that the Constitution, not only authorizes no slavery, but permits no slavery; not only creates no slavery in any part of the land, but abolishes slavery in every part o the land. In other words, I hold, that there is no law for American slavery.

John Brown: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

John Brown

1800 – Born in Torrington, Connecticut

1837 – Brown commits his life to fighting to end slavery.

1849 – John Brown and his family moved to the Black community of North Elba in the Adirondack region of New York.

1855 – Brown and five of his sons organize a band of anti-slavery guerilla fighters in the Kansas territory.

1859 – John Brown and 21 other men attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown was wounded, captured and convicted of treason. He was hanged on December 2, 1859.

John Brown is one of the most controversial [debated] figures in United States history. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and an anti-slavery guerilla fighter in Kansas. In 1859, Brown led an armed attack on a federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His goal was to start a slave rebellion in the United States. Brown and his followers were defeated, tried and executed. While the rebellion failed, it led to the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States.

Famous Speech:  John Brown to the Virginia Court on November 2, 1859

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, — the design on my part to free slaves . . . Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends — either father, mother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class — and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

The court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God . . . I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle [mix]  my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments. — I submit; so let it be done!

Harriet Tubman: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist, Political Activist, Nurse, Spy

1822 – Born enslaved in Maryland. Birth name Araminta “Minty” Ross

1834 (?) – Suffered severe head injury when she helped another slave who was being beaten

1849 – Escaped enslavement

1850s – Conductor on the UGRR

1858 – Helped John Brown plot Harpers Ferry

1859 – Establishes farm Auburn, NY

1861 – Served as a cook and nurse for Union Army

1863 – Became spy for the Union Army

1868 – Secured Civil War pension

1896 – Established an old age home

1913 – Died in Auburn, NY

Excerpt from her Biography by Sarah Bradford

Master Lincoln, he’s a great man, and I am a poor negro [African American]; but the negro can tell master Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the negro free. Suppose that was an awful big snake down there, on the floor. He bite you. Folks all scared, because you die. You send for a doctor to cut the bite; but the snake, he rolled up there, and while the doctor doing it, he bite you again. The doctor dug out that bite; but while the doctor doing it, the snake, he spring up and bite you again; so he keep doing it, till you kill him. That’s what master Lincoln ought to know.

Frederick Douglass Praises Harriet Tubman

The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. … The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.

Sojourner Truth: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist

1797 – Born enslaved in Ulster County, NY. Her birth name was Isabella (Belle) Baumfree. She spoke Dutch before she spoke English.

1806 – Isabella was sold for the first time at age 9.

1826 – She escaped from slavery with her infant daughter.

1827 – Legally freed by New York Emancipation Act.

1828 – Sued in court to free her son who had be sold illegally to an owner in Alabama.

1843 – Isabella converted to Methodism, changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and became a travelling preacher and abolitionist.

1850 – William Lloyd Garrison published her memoir.

1851 – Sojourner Truth delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at an Ohio Women’s Rights Convention.

1850s – Spoke at many anti-slavery and women’s rights meetings

1860s – Recruited Black soldiers for the Union Army.

1870s – Campaigned for equal rights for former slaves.

1883 – Died in Battle Creek, Michigan

Famous Speech: “Ain’t I a Woman” (edited)

In May 1851, Sojourner Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. She delivered a speech where she demanded full and equal human rights for women and enslaved Africans. The text of the speech was written down and later published by Frances Gage, who organized the convention. In the published version of the speech Sojourner Truth referred to herself using a word that is not acceptable to use. This is an edited version of the speech.

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.  I think that between the Negroes [Blacks] of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.  But what’s all this here talking about?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what do they call it? [Intellect, someone whispers.]  That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negro’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman!  Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together . . . ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!  And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

David Ruggles: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

David Ruggles

1810 – Born in Lyme, Connecticut to free black parents

1815 – Attended Sabbath School for poor children in Norwich, Connecticut.

1826 – Moved to New York City and operated a grocery store.

1830 – Opened the first African-American bookstore.

1835 – Organized the New York Vigilance Committee.

1835 – A white anti-abolitionist mob assaulted Ruggles and burned his bookstore.

1838- Helped Frederick Douglass during his escape from slavery.

1842 – Became very ill and almost completely blind

1849 – Died in Northampton, Massachusetts

A Letter from David Ruggles

David Ruggles wrote this letter to the editor of a New York newspaper, Zion’s Watchman, It was reprinted in The Liberator by William Lloyd Garrison in October 1837. The New York Vigilance Committee helped enslaved Africans to escape and free Blacks arrested and accused of being runaway slaves.

I suppose, not one in a thousand of your readers can be aware of the extent to which slavery prevails even in the so-called free state of New York. Within the last four weeks, I have seen not less than eleven different persons who have recently been brought from the south, and who are now held as slaves by their masters in this state; as you know the laws of this state allow any slaveholder to do this, nine months at a time; so that when the slave has been here nine months, the master has only to take him out of the state, and then return with him immediately, and have him registered again, and so he may hold on to the slave as long as he lives. Some of the slaves whom I have recently seen are employed by their masters, some are loaned, and others hired out; and each of the holders of these slaves whom I have seen are professors of religion!!

Jermain Loguen: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist, UGRR Station Master, Bishop

1814 – Born enslaved in Tennessee. His biological father owned Jermain and his mother.

1834 – Escaped to Canada on the UGRR

1837 – Studied at the Oneida Institute

1840s – An AME Zion minister, he established schools for Black children in Syracuse and Utica. His home in Syracuse was UGRR station.

1850 – Speech denounced Fugitive Slave Law

1851 – Breaks the Fugitive Slave Law helping a freedom seeker escape from prison to Canada

1859 – Published his autobiography

1868 – Appointed Bishop in the AME Zion Church

1872 – Died in Syracuse, NY

Famous Speech: Reverend Jermain Loguen Denounces the Fugitive Slave Law (1850)

I was a slave; I knew the dangers I was exposed to. I had made up my mind as to the course I was to take. On that score I needed no counsel, nor did the colored citizens generally. They had taken their stand – they would not be taken back to slavery. If to shoot down their assailants should forfeit their lives, such result was the least of the evil. They will have their liberties or die in their defense.

I don’t respect this law – I don’t fear it – I won’t obey it! It outlaws me, and I outlaw it, and the men who attempt to enforce it on me. I place the governmental officials on the ground that they place me. I will not live a slave, and if force is employed to re-enslave me, I shall make preparations to meet the crisis as becomes a man. If you will stand by me- and believe you will do it, for your freedom and honor are involved as well as mine- it requires no microscope to see that- I say if you will stand with us in resistance to this measure, you will be the saviours (sic) of your country. Your decision tonight in favor of resistance will give vent to the spirit of liberty, and will break the bands of party, and shout for joy all over the North. Your example only is needed to be the type of public action in Auburn, and Rochester, and Utica, and Buffalo, and all the West, and eventually in the Atlantic cities. Heaven knows that this act of noble daring will break out somewhere- and may God grant that Syracuse be the honored spot, whence it shall send an earthquake voice through the land!

William Lloyd Garrison: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist, Journalist, Women’s Rights

1805 – Born in Massachusetts

1828 – Active in Temperance campaigns

1831 – Started publication of the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator

1832- Organized the New England Anti-Slavery Society

1835 – Nearly lynched after speaking at an anti-slavery rally in Boston.

1840 – Demanded that women be allowed to participate in all abolitionist activities.

1841 – Starts working with Frederick Douglass after meeting at an anti-slavery rally.

1850 – Garrison and Douglass disagree whether slavery could be defeated through electoral means.

1854 – Garrison burned a copy of the Constitution calling it a pro-slavery document.

1870s – Garrison campaigns for full and equal rights for Blacks and women.

1879 – Died in New York City

Famous Essay: 1st Editorial in The Liberator

William Lloyd Garrison was a radical abolitionist who demanded an immediate end to slavery. This excerpt is from the initial editorial in The Liberator. It was published January 1, 1831.

I determined, at every hazard, to lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation . . . That standard is now unfurled; and long may it float . . . till every chain be broken, and every bondman set free! Let southern oppressors tremble . . . let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble. 

Assenting to the “self-evident truth” maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights — among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population.

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.

Angelina Grimké Weld: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States        

Abolitionist, Feminist, Educator

1805 – Born in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents were major slaveholders.

1826 – Became a Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian church..

1829 – Spoke against slavery at a church service and she was expelled from membership..

1835 – Joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.

1836 – A letter published in The Liberator made her a well-known abolitionist.

1837 – Helped organize the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women.

1838 – In Boston, she became the 1st woman in the United States to speak before a state legislature. Threatened by a mob when she spoke at a Philadelphia anti-slavery rally.

1838 – Married abolitionist Theodore Weld and together they operated schools in New Jersey

1879 – Died at Hyde Park, Massachusetts

“Appeal to the Christian Women of the South”

Angelina Grimké was a religious Christian. Her religious beliefs convinced her to become an abolitionist. In her 1836 letter published in The Liberator, she wrote that abolition was a “cause worth dying for.” In her writing and speeches she appealed to other Christians to join the anti-slavery campaign. In 1837, she published a pamphlet that urged Southern white women, in the name of their Christian beliefs, to help end slavery.

I appeal to you, my friends, as mothers; Are you willing to enslave your children? You start back with horror and indignation at such a question. But why, if slavery is no wrong to those upon whom it is imposed? Why, if as has often been said, slaves are happier than their masters, free from the cares and perplexities of providing for themselves and their families? Why not place your children in the way of being supported without your having the trouble to provide for them, or they for themselves? Do you not perceive that as soon as this golden rule of action is applied to yourselves that you involuntarily shrink from the test; as soon as your actions are weighed in this balance of the sanctuary that you are found wanting? Try yourselves by another of the Divine precepts, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Can we love a man as we love ourselves if we do, and continue to do unto him, what we would not wish any one to do to us?

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