Whether or not one agrees with Pulitzer-prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter’s observation that the famous philosopher John Dewey’s “style is suggestive of the cannonading of distant armies: one concludes that something portentous is going on at a remote and inaccessible distance, but one cannot determine just what it is” or the noted Harvard pragmatist, William James, who opined that his writings are “damnable; you might even say God-damnable,” it remains hard to ignore Dewey’s social and political views regarding American attitudes toward Asian Americans. After all, Dewey was more commentator than philosopher in many respects. The organization Stop AAPI Hate identifies 3,800 reported events of anti-Asian hate incidents in the US over the past 12 months (a total that represents a fraction of all such events).
A century ago, John Dewey commented on the issue of race prejudice in the wake of another global crisis — the aftereffects of World War I. Today, we are experiencing another world crisis, COVID-19, and there are similar parallels when it comes to how we are treating our Asian American citizens. The global pandemic that has consumed and overtaken our lives has led to a fresh wave of hatred against those of Asian descent but particularly Chinese Americans. The recent attacks at massage parlors in Atlanta and random assaults on the streets of New York and other cities are stark reminders of what can happen when people feel confined, angry, and compelled to blame someone else for their own current predicament. Scholars at Cal State San Bernardino estimate that in 2020, attacks against Asian Americans increased by one hundred and fifty percent from the previous year, a trend which seems to be intensifying in 2021.
The current spate of hate crimes and prejudice against those of Asian descent is particularly worrisome but should not come as a complete surprise. We have a long history of nativist resentment towards those who do not look Western European. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1885 killing of twenty-eight Chinese coal miners by a white mob in Rock Springs, Wyoming, The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, and most famously, the establishment of Internment Camps during World War II, which witnessed Japanese American citizens being torn from their homes and jobs on the West Coast under the pretext of national security (measures not imposed on Germans or Italians in other parts of the country), are just some examples of how Asian ethnic groups have become targets at moments of national tension.
As he was America’s most noted philosopher of the day, Dewey’s post-World War I trip to Asia remains instructive. Fresh from a two-year sabbatical to the Far East from 1919 to1921, Dewey returned to resume his duties at Columbia prior to his retirement in 1930. He had been battered and intellectually bruised by his former student, Randolph Bourne, who soundly criticized him for supporting America’s entry into the war without carefully thinking about its associated consequences. Indeed, the resulting petty bickering at the Treaty of Versailles and failures to implement all of Wilson’s Fourteen Points resulted in Dewey issuing his own public apologia, “The Discrediting of Idealism.” He heartily welcomed this needed hiatus when invited to the Far East by a number of his former Chinese students at Teachers College—he was encouraged, especially by Hu Shih, to present his ideas on progressive education to coincide with the wave of nationalism and modernization as China emerged from its feudalistic past.
The two years he spent, first lecturing in Japan for six weeks and then teaching and lecturing at the University of Nanking and other colleges in China while traveling about the countryside during the remainder of his sabbatical, gave Dewey a newfound appreciation for the Chinese and their culture. While he found Chinese thinking difficult to penetrate he was uplifted by their willingness to entertain certain aspects of Western democracy and industrialization.
But what he did not count upon when he arrived back in his own homeland was the virulent xenophobic nationalism that had surged in his absence. Symptoms included the Red Scare of 1919, the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, rural suspicions of expanding urban centers, and growing calls for a stricter immigration bill. The pinnacle of white Anglo-Saxon nativism was the 1924 National Origins Act, which imposed strict quotas to restrict immigration by those not from Northern Europe. The historian John Higham neatly captures the reasons for this nativist hostility in his excellent work, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism.
Naturally, Dewey had hoped that upon his return to the United States attitudes would be different. Unfortunately, it was not to be the case. Perhaps he should have seen this coming as a result of the war hysteria and anti-German feelings exhibited between 1914-1918. Although the war had discredited his own idealism, he still found it very difficult to understand why his own nation not only refused to abandon its wartime intolerance but focused it on new enemies; he viewed with dismay and disappointment the nativist mind-set sweeping across the American landscape in the new decade.
Determined to speak out and challenge Americans to try and understand their reasons for treating Asian Americans the way that they did, as well as satisfy Chinese doubts about the sincerity of Western intentions, he presented a powerful and moving speech in 1921. He then fine-tuned it with force and conviction for his American readership. It appeared in a 1922 issue of the Chinese Social and Political Science Review appropriatelytitled, “Race Prejudice and Friction.”
What is most interesting about this speech and why it needs retelling today is how Dewey defined race and prejudice. In this article he insisted that racial prejudice is a social disease, one that comes before judgment; it cuts short our thinking, relies simply on desire or emotion thereby forcing people to see things only in one light and slanting one’s beliefs. What is shocking to our customary habits, Dewey observed, is the manufactured creation of a mentality that nurtures intolerance and hatred.
The anti-foreign sentiment Dewey experienced upon his return led to his further exploration of the nature of the causes for such attitudes. In re-reading this essay I decided to dig deeper into the philosopher’s thinking only to find out to my surprise that he hit upon the obvious: what leads to such reaction is a current crisis. In our case, today, it is the pandemic; what exacerbates the attitudes we are witnessing currently against Asian Americans have been fanned by those who chose political expediency and blame rather than accepting responsibility for their own inactions from the very beginning of this crisis here in the United States.
Perhaps a good way to frame Dewey’s line of thinking and applying it to our present situation is based upon the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, a fallacious determination that, in Dewey’s own words, “since one thing happens after another it happens because of it.” Since things did not go well once the pandemic hit, Asian Americans have now become objects of blame, contempt, and anger. The same analogy can be applied to Muslim-Americans in the wake of 9/11. Indeed, the anti-foreign animus, which Dewey experienced after World War I, continues to resonate within a certain element of Americans who see only Darth Vader among those U.S. citizens of a different color skin, religion, and physical appearance. We can even make the same argument when it comes to immigration from south of our border. We doubt, however, that there would be the same reaction if a bunch of French-speaking Canadians crossed the St. Lawrence River, and invaded Maine; they might even encounter a friendly moose or two as they set up camp.
For Dewey race is an abstract idea and in terms of science is primarily a “mythical idea.” What we, as Americans, must learn from Dewey’s own words is that race “in its popular usage is merely a name given to a large number of phenomena which strike attention because they are different.” We must consider those factors complicating the relationships in our “melting pot” while paying close attention to those cultural aspects found in our “salad bowl.” When and if understanding of the mythical nature of race becomes common, it may counteract the tendency to regard ethnic Americans as strange, unwelcome, or threatening. More importantly, it may allow the embrace of Asian Americans as equal participants in Dewey’s ideal of democracy as a way of life, rather than a mere political construct.
And speaking of political realities, perhaps the most important lesson Dewey gave us in this speech and later published is that race, unfortunately, has been tied too closely to the notion of nationalism, which in turn has “become almost exclusively political fact.” Let Dewey’s words speak for themselves. “The political factor,” he wrote, “works in two ways. In the first place, the fact of political domination creates the belief in superiority on one side and inferiority on the other. It changes race prejudice into racial discrimination.” The second aspect, he argued, is one that engenders a “psychological effect of rule upon the dominant political group”—one that inevitably fosters arrogance and contempt. Seeking cover for its own missteps, certain public officials made all those of Asian nationality responsible for America’s misfortune—it was a calculated-driven attempt based on a tone of self-righteous superiority and indignation.
In reading Dewey’s words we can only wonder if anything has really changed about the true nature of American nativism: “The same man who is sure of the inherent superiority of the white race will for example hold forth on the Yellow Peril in a style which would make one believe that he believed in the inherent inferiority of the white race, though he usually tries to save himself by attributing fear to superiority in numbers.” Race prejudice, Dewey maintained throughout his life, is nothing more than an instinctive dislike and dread of what is different. It is a prejudice “converted into discrimination and friction by accidental physical features, and by cultural differences of language, religion, and, especially at the present time, by an intermixture of political and economic forces [just think today of the political and economic consequences of our current pandemic].” Need Dewey to have said more?
Yet Dewey’s philosophy was not so much about ideas in and of themselves but how they could work out our common social problems. Civic or public involvement captures his philosophical view of democracy in action. A democracy is only as good as the people who make it, apart from the political structure in place, he once proclaimed in The Public and Its Problems. What he sought to do in his writings and speeches was offer a method of inquiry for revising those ideas preventing people from understanding exactly which social and political problems required thought and action, which were necessary for remediation and correction. He was truly a public philosopher whose works were aimed for audiences outside of the academy—an important virtue that has rapidly declined over the years.
By applying his own method of inquiry upon his return to America, he recognized the critical importance of getting at the root of racial prejudice and, in his case, how we treat Asian Americans. What needed correction, then and now, is how those “who have claimed racial superiority and who instigated and used race prejudice to maintain their state of superiority” were allowed to get away with it and why education in schools lost sight of its democratic/civic purpose. How is it possible, Dewey asked, to separate the governing constructs of democracy from the social and cultural patterns of the way we live?
So, what did Dewey suggest? Dewey argued that the nation needed to do a better job to promote a clear understanding of foreign cultures. Despite global communication networks available to encourage understanding, we still remain ill-informed and even less willing to work on this proposition individually. Many of us receive information passively with the goal of being given certainty of knowledge and guidance on how to act on it, or selectively with the goal of confirming pre-existing prejudice (problems Dewey certainly recognized). What still persists is an ongoing reluctance to examine critically and question vigorously what needs to be understood for overcoming long-held misconceptions and built-in biases regarding cultural differences.
But perhaps more importantly, Dewey did provide a vital clue in his own time that continues to resonate and make sense. What society has never fully come to grips with is dealing with the problem of what he called, “acute nationalism.” To solve animosity toward those of non-Western European heritage, we need in Dewey’s words a “degree of political internationalism.” In other words, what he argued a century ago was that the biggest obstacle to cultural assimilation is actually not one of race but a reluctance to adjust to different types of culture. This can only occur when a new state of mind is created that is favorably inclined to encourage fundamental changes in political and economic relationships—one which breaks down those cultural barriers currently steering many white or native-born Americans to blame and anger over a supposed “Chinese virus” instead of the embrace of shared humanity in fighting the global pandemic. An appreciation and willingness, Dewey insisted, which would forego nationalistic predilections by entrenched political systems existing solely for the preservation of the status quo. Indeed, in his concluding words, he warned his readers that “the problem of the mutual adjustment to one another of distinct cultures each having its roots deep in the past is not an easy one at the best. It is not a task to be approached in either an off-hand or a querulous mood. At the present moment the situation is not at its best; we may hope in fact that it is at its worst.” Unfortunately, despite what he observed and what he encouraged a century ago, the way we are treating our Asian American citizens today would not make Dewey very happy. His message still remains unheeded.
A fallen tombstone in an old cemetery on a farm outside Rectortown, Virginia marks the grave of a man who killed a neighbor in 1859 and set in motion events that made a little blue-eyed, flaxen-haired enslaved girl a poster child for abolition during the Civil War. In 1863, when Fannie Lawrence was 5, a famed abolitionist preacher in New York had her pose Shirley Temple-like in fancy dresses, then the photos were sold to raise money from sympathizers of the movement. The Library of Congress has an online exhibit on Fannie Lawrence. And her tale is detailed in a 2015 account, “A Sad Story of Redemption,” written by Page Johnson, editor of a newsletter for Historic Fairfax City, a group dedicated to preserving local heritage.
Johnson drew largely on the 1893 autobiography of Catherine S. Lawrence, an ardent anti-slavery and temperance crusader from upstate New York who had come to Virginia to nurse Union soldiers at a tent hospital on the grounds of the Episcopal Seminary in Alexandria. Fannie and two older sisters, Viana and Sally, were among several children of three enslaved women who had been impregnated by their owner, Charles Rufus Ayres. He was a wealthy young Virginian, who studied at Yale and the University of Virginia to practice law, but instead owned a mill and farmed 500 acres outside Rectortown with at least 12 enslaved workers. Despite his dependency on slavery, he was “a Union man,” Johnson wrote, and in his will, the 32-year-old Ayres promised the three women their freedom and money for them to move north and to pay for their children’s education when he died.
The 1857 will came into force sooner than Ayres could have imagined. A bitter quarrel with a neighbor, William Wesley Phillips, over a gate ended in an exchange of gun fire on Nov. 11, 1859. Ayres – whose shot missed – was mortally wounded by Phillips and his 18-year-old son, Samuel. Father and son were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary in Richmond, which was soon to be the capital of the Confederacy.
Ayres’ testamentary wishes did not go to plan. The women – including Fannie’s mother, Mary Fletcher, who had still-enslaved children in the area – at first forsook freedom and elected to remain in Virginia, living with Ayres’ kindly mother. When she died, Fannie, Viana, Sallie and many others escaped Rectortown, eluded Confederate patrols and wild hogs for more than 40 miles, and made it safely behind Union lines to Fort Williams in Alexandria near the seminary.
According to Lawrence’s autobiography, Viana, at 10 or 12 the eldest sister, pleaded for her to adopt 4-year-old Fannie. The nurse agreed to temporarily take the “beautiful child and I soon became very much attached to her.”
Lawrence wound up keeping her and taking her to New York, where she had Fannie christened at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Beecher paraded the “redeemed slave child,” as he called her, before his congregation, baptized her as Fannie Virginia Casseopia Lawrence and took up a collection reportedly of $1,200, although Lawrence said she never received any of the money. He warned that her light skin put her in danger of being abused by slave-masters or sold into prostitution. “Look upon this child,” the preacher urged. “Tell me, have you ever seen a fairer, sweeter face? This is a sample of the slavery which absorbs into itself everything fair and attractive. The loveliness of this child would only make her so much more valuable as a chattel.”
He sent Fannie to the studio of a Brooklyn photographer to pose in formal dresses, sometimes with her adoptive mother. The daguerreotypes, photographs developed on special silvered plates, were mounted on “cartes de visite,” calling cards that were popular in that era, and sold to abolitionist sympathizers. Fannie posed at least 17 times in Brooklyn and elsewhere. The cards “were wildly popular in the North, making Fanny the most photographed slave child in history,” Johnson wrote in “A Sad Story of Redemption.” Lawrence took Fannie on tours to sing at churches and may have profited herself from sales of the cards.
The story has no happy ending for Fannie or her sisters. Lawrence went back to Virginia to retrieve Viana and Sallie with the idea of placing them in “good Christian families” in New York who promised to educate them.
Instead, they used them as servants. Sallie died of consumption in 1867. Viana lived just four years more. Fannie reached adulthood, but against her adoptive mother’s wishes “married one whom I opposed, knowing his reckless life rendered him wholly unfit for her,” Lawrence said. The husband abandoned Fannie with an infant daughter, leaving them to destitution. When Fannie died, her “double orphan” child was left “unprotected and unprovided for, only as far as the small savings of her mother’s hard labor will go.” “My three Southern children are all laid away, for which I thank my heavenly Father,” Lawrence wrote in the autobiography, titled “Sketch of the Life and Labors of Miss Catherine S. Lawrence, Who in Early Life Distinguished Herself as a Bitter Opponent of Slavery and Intemperance.” The Civil War nurse died at 84 in 1904. It is not known how or when Fannie died or where she is buried.
Can Democrats truly reconcile with those Republicans who called President Biden’s election fraudulent and encouraged violent attack of the U.S. Capitol? Earlier moments in U.S. history should caution us about the lure and danger of reconciliation when one side refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. After the Civil War, former Union partisans sought to get along with the Southerners who fought to keep Black people enslaved even after the war. But later, they doubted the wisdom of having done so.
One of those people was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the most influential novel in the United States during the 19th century. Her famous book kindled readers’ sense that they could and must end slavery, even if that meant disrupting alliances, friendships and family ties with enslavers and their supporters. Thirty years later, Stowe wrote a story little known even it its own time, in which she considered what happened when these same White Northerners who fought against slavery reconciled too easily with former enslavers.
Can Democrats truly reconcile with those Republicans who called President Biden’s election fraudulent and encouraged violent attack of the U.S. Capitol? Earlier moments in U.S. history should caution us about the lure and danger of reconciliation when one side refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. After the Civil War, former Union partisans sought to get along with the Southerners who fought to keep Black people enslaved even after the war. But later, they doubted the wisdom of having done so.
One of those people was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the most influential novel in the United States during the 19th century. Her famous book kindled readers’ sense that they could and must end slavery, even if that meant disrupting alliances, friendships and family ties with enslavers and their supporters. Thirty years later, Stowe wrote a story little known even it its own time, in which she considered what happened when these same White Northerners who fought against slavery reconciled too easily with former enslavers.
Written in 1882, but set in 1866, “The Captain’s Story” tells of two former Union army captains who visit Florida, where they once fought on the battlefield. They hope to relax and recuperate from the toll the war had taken on their health. The two listen to their white Floridian guide’s ghost story, which includes his casual mention of having murdered enslaved African captives. The ghost of one captive continues to haunt a nearby plantation, he says. Despite moral qualms, the two captains decide to continue their trip with their murderous guide who can show them all the best fishing grounds. They will get along, and leave his punishment to God.
Stowe began spending winters in Florida just after the Civil War, about the time the story is set, initially hoping to help her son recover from his own Civil War trauma. She wrote popular travel articles in the 1870s touting the state’s pleasures for Protestant Northern Whites, hoping to attract them to politically overwhelm the Southern planters. Full of chummy advice on how to travel south and where to buy land, the accounts spurred the state’s first tourist boom while also raising money for a Black school. In “The Captain’s Story,” she swerves to remind her readers of the brutalities of her Florida neighbors who once enslaved people.
Although Stowe was a founder of the Atlantic Monthly, “The Captain’s Story” was not published there, perhaps because few 1880s editors wished to take the horrors of slavery seriously. Albion Tourgée, the editor of the short-lived but high-paying weekly Our Continent, did, however. He was a Union veteran who worked for Reconstruction then wrote about his experiences in two best-selling novels focusing on the difficulties and assaults the freed people faced. He went on to fight Jim Crow, as the lawyer representing a Black plaintiff attacking segregation in public facilities in Plessy v. Ferguson.
Although Our Continent was not a crusading publication and sought to attract White Southern readers, too, Tourgée published other works that acknowledged that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Yet Our Continent was obscure enough that “The Captain’s Story” received no notice in the press at the time. It was not anthologized or reprinted.
The story’s questioning of White complicity in postwar racism is subtle and conflicted. But it does stand in stark contrast to other popular magazine stories of the time. Northern magazines shoveled out stories romanticizing Southern plantations as places where sweet, quasi-familial ties between enslavers and enslaved people infused life with graciousness. Plantation fiction frequently featured a tired Northern businessman who, like the two captains, goes South to rest and comes to appreciate relaxed Southern hospitality.
Marriage to a Southern woman in these stories offered an allegory of reconciliation between Northern and Southern Whites. As the White abolitionist and orator Anna E. Dickinson noted, “The fashion of the day has been, and is, to talk of the love feast that is spread between old foes, till at last we of the North and of the South are doing what our forefathers did 30 years ago — grasping hands across the prostrate body of the negro.”
Of course, former Confederates did not seek reconciliation. Instead, they created the cult of the Lost Cause, celebrating the nobility and heroism of the Confederacy, leading to the erection of statues honoring Confederate leaders and school textbooks that continued to inculcate this version of history for over a century.
That is why Stowe’s story is significant. It called out the murderous past, presented plantation owners and their friends as lawless, brutal, disloyal, casual killers, scornful of the family ties of enslaved people.But the story disappeared, and that illuminated the shifting reality of race relations in 1882. Reconstruction had ended, a reign of racial terror lynchings had commenced, and states passed Black Codes that allowed Southern Whites to continue to coerce the labor of African Americans.White supremacy had regrouped with new legal structures and Northern collusion, and former Confederates were back in power in the South. Ex-Confederates suppressed the Black vote and reinstated slavery under different names.
The myth of benevolent plantation life took hold through sheer repetition in fictional work, most familiar now through “Gone With the Wind,” imagery and plantation tours. Burying Stowe’s story while celebrating that myth matters. It is another small part of concealing slavery’s past and obscuring the power of white supremacy, which still haunt the United States.
Teaching the 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre using the History Lab Model
Cara Ward and Lisa Brown Buchanan
Instances of racial violence towards Black Americans have a longstanding history in the United States. Though a few events and names are recalled most often in textbooks (e.g., Freedom Rides, Nat Turner) their retellings are generally presented from a White viewpoint; in fact, some events have been completely omitted from formal curriculum. This article discusses the teaching of racial violence in the United States, explores how Black historical principles of power and oppression can frame the study of events of racial violence, and outlines a concrete history lab designed to study the 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre (also commonly called the Wilmington Coup or Wilmington Insurrection).
An Overview of the Teaching of Racial Violence
Scholars of teaching Black history have documented the teaching and omission of racial violence towards Black and African Americans for decades (see, for example, Brown, Brown, & Ward, 2017; Busey & Walker 2017; Love, 2019; Vasquez Heilig, Brown, & Brown, 2012). Most research on teaching Black history has focused on PK-12 teaching and knowledge (Woodson, 2017), with some analysis of preservice teachers’ knowledge of Black history (King, 2019). More recently, resources for classroom teachers have become available that are focused on centering the Black experience and perspectives, particularly in experiences of racial violence (see, for example, Learning for Justice’s Teaching Hard History podcast series, New York Times’ 1619 Project, Facing History and Ourselves’ Race in US History collection) and some scholars have described pedagogical approaches to teaching Black history with accuracy and intention in K-12 (Simmons, 2016; Vickery, & Rodríguez, 2021; Vickery & Salinas, 2019).
Some have argued Black history is American history, suggesting a shared legacy between Black and White Americans (King, 2021) which is generally untrue. Others have taken this sentiment to task, pointing out that while the teaching of Black history altogether has been sidelined or disregarded, at best, the teaching of racial violence has been overwhelmingly avoided or if taught at all, with tremendous gaps and inaccuracies (Brown & Brown, 2010a, 2010b, 2011; Woodson, 2017).
In order to improve Black history education historical and contemporary racial violence must be taught as part of American history and Black history (King, 2021). As Brown, Brown, and Ward (2017) explain, classroom investigations of racial violence taught within the context of students’ lives presents a curriculum that “acknowledges race and racism in their present lives.” Using a framework of Black historical consciousness is one way to study racial violence within the context of Black history.
Teaching the Wilmington Race Massacre through Principles of Black Historical Consciousness
Scholars have described the need for teaching a more complete story of Black history (e.g., King, 2021; Muhammad, 2020; Rodríguez & Vickery, 2020) and using a Black historical consciousness framework centers the Black experience and perspective, both largely missing from traditional retellings of Black history. King describes six principles of Black historical consciousness (see King, 2021). While all are in some way directly related to racial violence, in this article, we focus on the principle of power and oppression (King, 2021). King (2021) suggests racial violence as a potential topic for the principle of power and oppression, and similar to our use of the history lab below to examine racial violence, suggests the use of compelling questions that align with interrogating systemic racism. Recognizing that “it is important to understand that Black people have been victims or victimized by oppressive structures, but have never been solely victims (King, 2021, p. 338)” teaching the Wilmington, NC Race Massacre of 1898 through the lens of power and oppression provides a historical context and conscious that is missing in traditional teaching of Black history and illustrates how power and oppression are created and sustained through society (King, 2021, p. 338). Complex ideas like power and oppression are often difficult knowledge for learners, and in concrete examples like the Wilmington Race Massacre, content may be taboo, rendering it obsolete in curricula and standards. Often coined as “hard history”, such content can be taught in powerful and productive ways. We posit that the history lab model, focused on evidence-based answers, offers the structure to unpack complex ideas of power and oppression while identifying the lasting impact of racial violence through the use of historical sources.
History Labs as an Instructional Strategy for Teaching Difficult Knowledge
Teachers are often wary of including instances of “hard history” as these events can be unsettling and spark tense discussions, especially in the current era of political polarization (McAvoy, 2016). In addition to building a cooperative and supportive classroom community before covering such events, there are instructional methods that can lead to productive classroom discussions and a deeper understanding of complex history. One such method is a history lab; first described by Bruce Lesh (2011), this form of instruction includes three main components: a compelling question, sources to examine, and an evidence-based answer. This teaching method is inquiry-based and includes components of Swan, Lee, and Grant’s (2015) Inquiry Design Model which is now widely used in the field of social studies.
To create a history lab, teachers develop an overarching, open-ended question called a compelling question for students to consider. Swan, Lee, and Grant (2018, 2019) have devoted a chapter in each of their books on the Inquiry Design Model to the topic of compelling questions and how to develop them. After question development, teachers select related sources for students to examine, often a mix of primary sources for details and secondary sources for background information and clarification. After presenting the question and sources to students, teachers facilitate the examination of the documents, reminding students to cite evidence from the documents while formulating their answer to the compelling question (Lesh, 2011).
Careful facilitation of discussion is the key to the effectiveness of this teaching method since it is critical for students to cite evidence in their answers. The most effective history labs are structured in ways that allow student interaction and opportunities to share thoughts throughout instead of just working through a “packet” and writing an individual response. An important first step is determining how to have students examine the primary and secondary sources that are presented. This can be done via gallery walks, jigsaw grouping, small group analysis, and whole group seminar style examination (Author, 2017; Author, 2018; Authors, 2020). Creating guiding questions, prompts, or a graphic organizer to help guide students through a lab can also be beneficial.
Another important consideration in the pandemic-induced era of increased online learning is whether a lab will take place synchronously or asynchronously. While the traditional face-to-face classroom setting is ideal, labs can also work well in either the fully virtual or hybrid classroom. Online synchronous methods such as breakout rooms can be used as a method for having small groups examine sources together. Another effective synchronous method is a whole class seminar-style discussion where students can speak one at a time or even use the chat to respond. For asynchronous course delivery, teachers can put the question and sources in a Google Doc or Jamboard and ask students to share thoughts by adding comments. Another option is to use the discussion board feature in a learning management system such as Google Classroom or Canvas for students to respond to individual sources. Teachers can also use video response and sharing tools such as Flipgrid for students to record their evidence-based answer to a compelling question. For hybrid models, teachers can ask students to examine sources ahead of time, using some of the online tools mentioned above, and then use face-to-face time in class for a whole group discussion.
The 1898 Wilmington Massacre
One example of hard history that can be effectively examined through the use of a history lab is the 1898 Wilmington Massacre. November 10, 1898 was a day of horrific racial violence inflicted upon the thriving, successful Black community in the coastal town of Wilmington, North Carolina. An election year, 1898 had been filled with White supremacist propaganda in local and state newspapers which ultimately led to intimidation of Black voters and a rigged election in Wilmington on November 8th. Two days later, a White mob armed themselves, burned the office of the local Black newspaper The Daily Record to the ground, and took over the city’s biracial government by violent force. During the chaos, the mob killed approximately 60 Black citizens (likely more as an official death toll was impossible to determine) and forced untold numbers out of town. The mayor and members of the board of aldermen were replaced by White supremacists. The event holds great historic significance not only on a local and state level, but also on a national scale. It is the only successful coup d’état in the history of the United States (McCluskey, 2018; Everett, 2015; Tyson, 2006; Umfleet, 2009) and is an example of the extreme violence and resulting large-scale loss of life that could occur as a result of the rise of angry White supremacists in the Jim Crow era. The 1898 Massacre has been compared to what happened in Tulsa in 1921 (Everett, 2015; Umfleet, 2015) and has been referenced multiple times in coverage of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol (Butler-Arnold, 2021; Cornish, 2021; Hayes, 2021; Ingram, 2021; Meyers, 2021).
The significance of this event is ever-increasing and the economic, social, and political impact is still apparent in Wilmington, NC today. As with other events of racial violence, this event has been largely overlooked and rarely taught, even in North Carolina, due to a lack of information about the event (Everett, 2015). Even the terminology used to describe the event is still evolving – originally called a race riot, in recent years, it has been referred to as an insurrection, massacre, and coup d’état (Fonvielle, 2018; Tyson, 2006; Zucchino, 2020). For all of these reasons, the Wilmington Race Massacre should be taught with middle and secondary students and we believe a history lab is the most appropriate method for studying the event.
A History Lab about the 1898 Wilmington Massacre
We offer the following example of a history lab about 1898 that we developed for students to demonstrate how the work described above can be done. The lab described below can be found at https://tinyurl.com/1898historylab and is formatted as a view-only Google Slides presentation. This format allows teachers who would like to use the lab either a ready-made version that can be used right away or the flexibility to make a copy of the document to edit for their specific instructional needs. The original sources are linked in the speaker notes area for each slide.
While there are many questions that could be asked about this event, we feel that asking students to examine the long-term impact of the 1898 is most critical to their comprehension of the scale and significance of this event. Therefore, our compelling question is “What is the lasting impact of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?”
In order to introduce the lab, we have included two sources, one primary and one secondary to give students some background information before they begin analyzing sources. The first source (slide 2) is a photograph of the mob in front of the burnt remains of The Daily Record newspaper office. The next source (slide 3) is a 12-minute video published by Vox which gives a brief, but informative summary of the event. These two sources give students some sense of what happened so that they have some frame of reference for the additional sources.
We selected three guiding questions to help direct student thinking and analysis throughout the lab. For each of these questions, we selected three sources for students to examine. In terms of format for this lab, we recommend dividing the class into three groups (1, 2, 3) and having each group thoroughly examine one of the questions and the accompanying sources, thus allowing a group of students to become “experts” on their assigned question. After this analysis, the class should “jigsaw” into three new groups (A, B, C) which each include members from groups 1, 2, and 3. In groups A, B, and C, the representatives for each question should take turns sharing their analysis of their assigned question with the group so all can gain a sense of what happened and begin to consider what the lasting impact is.
What were the events that led to the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?
For this question, we selected a photograph of the waterfront in downtown Wilmington in the late 1800s which shows the prominent display of White supremacy banners (slide 7). We also selected an excerpt from a speech by Rebecca Lattimore Felton during which she endorsed lynching as a punishment for Black men who had relationships with White women (slide 8). The third source we selected for this question was an editorial written by Alexander Manly in response to Felton’s speech where he points out the unjust and hypocritical nature of her stance (slide 9). These sources should give students a glimpse of the extent to which White supremacy impacted daily life and conversations. While all of the sources in the lab are about a violent event, it should also be noted that Felton’s full speech and Manly’s full editorial which are linked include references to rape. We recommend that teachers thoroughly examine all the sources themselves before presenting them to students.
What happened during the event?
The first source for this question is a telegram sent to then President of the United States, William McKinley warning him of the volatile situation in Wilmington (slide 11). The next source is a map marking the location of those wounded and killed during the event (slide 12). The final source for this question is an interactive timeline and map which gives a comprehensive overview of the events (slide 13). These sources outline the seriousness of the situation and how violent it became.
What was the economic and social impact of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?
We selected three charts from Umfleet’s (2009) book A Day of Blood for students to examine. The first chart compares the 1897 and 1900 occupations by race for Wilmington citizens (slide 15). The second chart shows the census population by race from 1860 to 1910 for Wilmington (slide 16) and the third chart shows the same data for North Carolina (slide 17). These charts show the loss of economic opportunities for Black Wilmingtonians as well as the decline in the city’s Black population.
We recommend concluding this lab with a whole class discussion focusing back on the compelling question: “What is the lasting impact of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?” and the evidence that students examined in their groups. Students will likely reference the rise of White supremacy, the loss of human life and the impact on population, economic repercussions such as decreased employment for Black citizens, voter intimidation, and lack of Black political leaders in Wilmington in years that followed the event. Since this is an open-ended question, other responses may be offered as well, but students should back up their ideas with evidence from the sources.
Additional Teacher Resources
We understand that most teachers are unfamiliar with the 1898 Wilmington massacre and may need additional resources to improve their content knowledge of this series of events. We suggest the resources in Table 1 for a more in-depth history of the Wilmington Race Massacre. Teachers may find these sources useful as they study 1898 alongside their students.
Table 1: Additional Teacher Resources for 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre
Umfleet, L.S. (2009). A day of blood. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History.
Zucchino, D. (2020). Wilmington’s lie. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Everett, C. (2015). Wilmington on fire [Documentary film]. United States: Speller Street Films.
Oliver, N. (2016). The red cape [Motion picture]. United States.
While this lab focuses on the Wilmington Race Massacre, we would be remiss to not recognize the abhorrent number of massacre events in United States history to date similar to 1898. If we are committed to teaching the story of Black America (King, 2021), we must be willing to navigate a more complete story of race and racism in the United States, which we believe includes studying “hard history”. Bringing together a Black historical consciousness framework and history lab structure is one powerful and productive approach to a more complete story of Black history.
Brown, A.L., Brown, K.D, & Ward, A. (2017). Critical race theory meets culturally relevant pedagogy: Advancing a critical sociohistorical consciousness for teaching and curriculum. Social Education, 81(1), 23-27.
Brown, K.D. & Brown, A.L. (2011). Teaching K-8 students about race: African Americans, racism, & the struggle for social justice in the U.S. Multicultural Education,19(1), 9-13.
Brown, A. L., & Brown, K. D. (2010a). Strange fruit indeed: Interrogating contemporary textbook representations of racial violence toward African Americans. Teachers College Record, 112(1), 31-67.
Brown, K. D., & Brown, A. L. (2010b). Silenced memories: An examination of the sociocultural knowledge on race and racial violence in official school curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education, 43(2), 139-154.
Busey, C. L., & Walker, I. (2017). A dream and a bus: Black critical patriotism in elementary social studies standards. Theory & Research in Social Education, 45(4), 456-488.
Butler-Arnold, A. (2021). Why my students weren’t surprised on January 6th. Social Education, 85(1), 8-10.
Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.
Rodríguez, N.N. and Vickery, A.E. (2020). More than a hamburger: Disrupting problematic picturebook depictions of the Civil Rights Movement. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 21(2), 109-128.
The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War
by William G. Thomas III
Reviewed by Hank Bitten, Executive Director NJ Council for the Social Studies
Having taught the colonial unit for decades as part of the U.S. History 1 course, I always dedicated time to Lord Calvert, the persecution of Roman Catholics in Maryland, the Toleration Act of 1649, and life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Although I would document his wealth and plantation, I never made the connection to his slaves or the role of the Roman Catholic Church in operating a tobacco plantation with slaves in Prince George’s County.
The history of slaves in Maryland and the role of the Society of Jesuits in conducting the business of a tobacco corporation in complicated. As a result of reading A Question of Freedom, I have a new perspective and credible documentation of how slavery became rooted in the laws of our colonies, states, and national government.
The opening chapter is a compelling account of the life of Edward Queen who sued for freedom in 1791 because he was the son of a freewoman, his grandmother. (p. 3) The struggle for freedom by Edward Queen continued for 22 years until the decision in Queen v. Hepburn by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1813. His attorney was Francis Scott Key.
Teachers who are looking for the right questions to engage students in historical inquiry and investigative research will find the questions presented by Professor Thomas (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) a valuable resource. This book is filled with inquiry based questions that encourage exploration and debate. Here are some examples:
Why did the Jesuits and other slaveholders fight so ferociously in court to hold on to the people they enslaved?
What did people like Edward Queen hope to achieve, and what did they think was within their reach?
Why did lawyers, like Francis Scott Key take these cases and how did judges, even those with moderate antislavery convictions, end up advancing legal principles in the trials that would ultimately uphold slavery?
How did Duvall, Key, and Queen families know one another long before the case was argued in the Supreme Court in February 1813?
Did the Queen case leave any lasting impression on the thinking of Francis Scott Key when he wrote the poem that would become “The Star Spangled Banner?’ (p. 5)
Professor Thomas discovered the name of Allen Bowie Duckett, Associate Justice to the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia in his research. Justice Duckett’s father presided over a case for freedom by the Edward Queen family and ruled in their favor. In fact, this decision resulted in the freedom of twenty members of the Queen family. What Professor Thomas discovered through his research was that his grandmother’s family owned plantations adjacent to the area known as White Marsh on the Chesapeake Bay peninsula. He discovered that Elizabeth M. Duckett claimed slaves at the end of the Civil War. The document reported Henny Queen, age 35, and her five children ages six months to eight years old.
Teachers interested in teaching about Continuity and Change will see insights in Chapter 2 about how the aftermath of the Seven Years War and the American Revolution gave rise to the election of liberal and conservative members in the British House of Commons. In America, laws about slavery were limited to each colony before 1789 but in the case of England, its protection, importation, manumission, and abolition applied to a global colonial empire.
Did British Common Law Apply to its Colonies?
Even though the importation of slaves was legal in the United States until 1808, slaves who were brought to England were not compelled to leave according to a common law decision by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in the decision of James Somersett. James Somersett, a slave, was taken to England by his master, Charles Stewart, a customs officer in Boston. He ran away and was eventually tracked down and placed in prison. A writ of habeas corpus was issued for his release by the abolitionist Granville Sharp in connection with a pending case by merchants from the West Indies who wanted assurance by common law that slaves were a safe investment. The case of Somersett v. Stewart, 1772 became a landmark case that inspired hope for slaves held in bondage throughout the British empire.
The language of the Somersett decision indicates the complexities of the status of slaves as persons under natural and moral law or as property protected by laws. England will not abolish slavery for 60 years (1833) but without a specific law in England to sanction slavery, a person with the legal status of a slave in a colony could not be forced to leave England and return to slavery. James Somersett continued with his status as a slave but could not be forced to return to chattel slavery. The language is confusing in stating that slavery was odious but a temporary presence in England did not guarantee manumission, and questions would continue regarding if the common law ruling applied only to the definition of being in England or if being on a ship or at a port in the Tames River applied.
“Mansfield’s decision moved slavery entirely out of the reach of the common law and its moral protection. Whatever slavery was, it was not sanctioned by English common law. As a result, Somersett v. Stewart wiped out the line of seventeenth century precedents that had once propped up slavery as a lawful form of property.” (p. 34)
Professor Thomas researched the case of Mahoney v. Ashton in Maryland. “In its length and complexity, Mahoney v. Ashton was like almost no other petition for freedom in American history.” (p. 88) Charles Mahoney and 40 of his relatives were owned by Charles Carrollton, Maryland’s leading politician and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The basis of the trial dated back to Ann Joice, grandmother of Charles Mahoney. Ann Joice was a black indentured servant from Barbados who spent time in England before coming to Maryland to work for Lord Baltimore. As an indentured servant, she should be entitled to her freedom, as should her 1,500 descendants who were slaves in Maryland. People of color born from a free woman were not slaves! Unfortunately, it was difficult to provide evidence that she was in England. The research provided in this case, with its twists and turns, is worth your reading. In the trial, the jurors heard testimony from hearsay of Mary Queen, a free black woman who came to Virginia from New Spain instead of the Popo region of West Africa as claimed by Benjamin Duvall, representing the slaveholders.
“The all-white slaveholding jury gave greater weight to the testimony of the Queen witnesses, followed the ruling of the general court in Edward’s case, and rendered a verdict in favor of freedom for Phillis Queen. The decision made sense. A higher court determined Edward Queen was free, so surely his mother, Phillis should be also. Since Edward’s grandmother, Mary Queen was “not a slave,” surely her daughter could not be a slave either.” (p. 76) “On May 12, 1799, the jury returned an unambiguous verdict: ‘Charles Mahoney is a free man.’” (p. 99)
As a result of this decision, twenty related lawsuits freed over fifty children and grandchildren. “The trials cost John Ashton and the Jesuits 6,795 pounds of tobacco in damages, court costs, and fees.” (p. 78) The year is 1796 and the cost was even greater since tobacco prices were depressed in the mid-1790s. In this same year, the Maryland legislature allowed manumission by last will and testament for individuals in good health, under the age of forty-five, who could support themselves. Unfortunately, legal precedents can change and Charles Mahoney’s family experienced their loss of freedom.
“On June 25, 1802, the High Court of Appeals reversed the May 1799 judgment freeing Charles Mahoney. The defeat was total.” Setting a foot in England was no longer a basis for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Charles, Patrick, and Daniel Mahoney or others. (p. 112)
What a teachable moment!
Is this decision evidence that in the United States, slaves were defined as property because of the color of their skin?
Is this decision a reaction against the popularity of the Jeffersonian Republicans after the Election of 1800?
Did the ill-fated rebellion near Richmond, Virginia by Gabriel Prosser in 1800 and the French and Haitian Revolutions increase fears of mob rule and the loss of property?
Is the decision valid based on the arguments of Robert Goodloe Harper that Somersett v. Stewart only suspended a slaveholder’s right to property?
Is the position of the Democratic Republicans contradictory in its support for slavery on the basis of race while advocating for the freedom of specific individuals, like the Mahoney family?
These questions should motivate deeper questions by your students leading to evidence that legal precedents are being established in states that will support the basis of Roger Taney’s obiter dictum in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857. The Question of Freedom provides insights into why laws for voting based on the ownership of property were changed to qualifications based on race and skin color. (p. 115) States began to introduce legislation outlawing manumission and requiring free blacks to carry a certificate of freedom signed by the county court. Judges provided instructions to jurors that the burden of proof fell on the enslaved person to prove their freedom and that the color of their mulatto skin was white. “Judges and juries would observe their color, hair, and physical features. Testimony about the racial features of their ancestors would give greater weight than what contemporaries said about their status as free persons.” (p. 132)
The Impact of the Domestic Slave Trade
The freedom case of Priscilla and Mina Queen (Queen v. Hepburn) offers unique insights into the slave trade, black market trade of enslaved persons, impact of bankruptcy on slaveowners and enslaved persons, and changing financial markets. The case began in 1809 and a successful outcome depended on Priscilla and Mina Queen proving their grandmother was Nanny Cooper, the daughter of Mary Queen who was in England, and establishing that she came to Maryland as a free woman before 1715 (100 years ago).
John Hepburn, inherited over one thousand acres in 1775 and over the years overspent his fortune in a lucrative life style. As a result of filing for bankruptcy, his creditors could acquire slaves, sell them, and separate them from their children. Blacks, both free and slave, were in high demand to meet the labor needs for the construction of buildings and roads in the new capital city of Washington D.C. and to pick cotton to meet the international demand for cotton textiles.
The U.S. prohibited the international slave trade of slaves in 1808 but the domestic slave trade became a daily event at auctions. “Former New York congressman John P. Van Ness advertised in the newspaper a year later that he had ‘A Negro Boy for Sale.’” (p. 166) When Catholic women joined the convent, their parents gave the Roman Catholic Church their dowries, which often included slaves. As a result of the increasing population of people of color in the new capital, strict black codes designed to limit freedom in the evening were enacted. (p. 162)
Chapter 5 presents the facts in a concise manner that offers teachers an opportunity to create a mock trial simulation of Queen v. Hepburn and Queen v. Neale. These cases have twists and turns regarding hearsay evidence, transcription errors in documents, and connections to shipping records and wills. Furthermore, the Queen’s lawyer is Francis Scott Key and one of the associate judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, Gabriel Duvall, had previous ruled in favor of Charles Mahoney. There is also a map of Washington D.C. (1815) identifying the homes and offices of the major individuals in this story. The research is splendid and the controversial issues for students to debate provide a powerful understanding of both systemic racism in the United States and the depth of individual freedom. The arguments for the protection of property are real and the right to individual freedom is powerful. (pp. 169 -179
William Cranch, Federalist and nephew of Abigail Adams is the chief judge of the circuit court in D.C. Although a Federalist, expert in property contracts, his decisions generally benefited slaves in their freedom suits.
Francs Scott Key presented all the depositions from the 21 freedom suits of the Queen family that Gabriel Duvall had taken years before. The evidence that Mary Queen was an indentured servant was carefully explained.
Fredus Ryland was a star witness and had previously given a deposition in 1796 stating that he met Mary Queen and heard her story first hand. His deposition clearly stated that she was ‘born free’ came from Guayaquil (Ecuador or New Spain) and was transported around the world and to England by Captain Woodes Rogers and lived in London for three years!
Everyone who was literate in the United States was familiar with Daniel Defoe’s popular book, Robinson Crusoe, which is based on the account of Captain Rogers and includes a reference to a passenger Maria. Could this be Mary Queen?
Francis Scott Key introduced the will of James Carroll bequeathing a woman named Mary to Anthony Carroll, John Carroll’s seven-year old nephew.
The attorneys for Rev. Francis Neale, objected to the deposition of Fredus Ryland claiming it was based on hearsay.
Students should ask questions about the rules of evidence in trials, especially in the case of slaves who lacked birth records and travel documents. In the 21st century lawyers and judges argue over what evidence is credible and what needs to be excluded. Many judges were open to hearsay evidence in freedom trials, especially when it was supported by multiple individuals. With the rejection of hearsay evidence, Priscilla Queen and Nina Queen both lost their suit for freedom. However, Nina Queen appealed her decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in February 1813.
In the context of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, I taught my students about the slave trade in Washington, D.C. and the market value of the price of slaves. After reading Question of freedom, I realized this needs to be taught much earlier. Professor Thomas provides detailed research of the slave trade and prisons in our nation’s capital dating back to 1800 and the demand for laborers in building the U.S. Capitol, ships for our navy, and house servants for elected members of our government. It is a valuable resource for teachers, as is Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave, who want to teach about continuity and change and how the questions relating to slavery, property, and individual freedom changed in the first six decades of the 19th century.
“The men, women, and children were ‘bound together in pairs, some with ropes, and some with iron chains.” (Report from Dr. Jesse Torrey, circa 1815, p. 196)
Slave Trades in Washington D.C.
The locations of hidden slave pen on the upper floor of George Miller’s Tavern on F Street (between 13th and 14th), Williams Yellow House, and Robey’s Tavern on Independence Ave. between 7th and 8th Streets.
The story of Ann Williams captures the fear that every black person faced daily as the demand for labor intensified with the construction of roads and buildings and the cotton economy in the South. Ann Williams and her two young daughters were taken from their home in Bladensburg, Maryland and marched in chains for seven miles to Washington D.C. She pried open a window and jumped three floors breaking her spine. George Miller, the tavern owner, kept her on a wooden pallet providing her with food and water.
Engage your students in reflective thinking to determine if his motives were for humanitarian reasons or for profit from the children she would likely give birth to after she was healed. This is a powerful story that your students will never forget. Furthermore, the Circuit Court in D.C. issued a writ of habeas corpus to investigate the incident at the Miller Tavern only to have it rescinded on the grounds that Ann Williams was property and therefore a writ of habeas corpus could not apply because it is only for persons detained. Her story is even more important because on July 2, 1832, she received her freedom through a verdict from a jury in the District of Columbia Court – 17 years after she jumped from the top floor of Miller’s Tavern.
The questions presented by Professor Williams are at times clearly stated and they are also hidden in the perspectives. For example, the argument by George Miller that slaves were property and could be denied a writ of habeas corpus are of national importance. This incident influenced the Missouri Compromise, Tallmadge Amendment, and the African Colonization Society. With every economic crisis in 1817, 1837, with the changing markets for labor, with burgeoning individual debts and personal bankruptcy, enslaved persons were vulnerable.
Teachers must ask their students how did economics influence the principles of slaveholders such as Francis Scott Key, John Marshall, Roger B. Taney, Henry Clay and other prominent Americans who are also understood as reformers? The evidence illustrates the inequality of the United States of America in a way that the debate over a $15 minimum wage has arguments for maintaining wages below the poverty level and increasing profits for businesses above the expected rate of inflation. History is complicated!
However, the freedom suit filed by Charlotte Dupee in 1829 for her freedom from Henry Clay, Secretary of State, displays these conflicts. Henry Clay is a founding member of the American Colonization Society (the chairperson), an aspiring candidate for president, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a senator from Kentucky. Henry Clay stated, “free black confronted unconquerable prejudices resulting from their color and they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country.” (pp. 200-201)
Henry Clay purchased Charlotte for $450 (a high price) in 1815. She married Henry Clay’s personal assistant and driver, Aaron Dupee. Charlotte and Aaron married and had two children, Charles and Mary Ann. They lived with Henry Clay in his home (Decatur House) on Lafayette Square. Charlotte’s parents lived in Maryland as a free family and her family visited with them regularly. Charlotte and Aaron were well known and respected among the Washington political elites and likely very aware of legislation and debates relating to slavery.
Charlotte’s law suit was based on the fact that when she was born her parents were free and not slaves. However, she was born in 1787 and her father received his freedom in 1790 and her mother in 1792. She claimed her sale to Henry Clay was illegal. After the Electoral College declared Andrew Jackson as president, Henry Clay would return to Kentucky with Charlotte and Aaron and their two children. They could be separated and sold at any time.
The case embarrassed Henry Clay and called into question his political reputation. In another interesting twist of research, Professor Williams observes that Charlotte remained in Washington D.C. because of her pending lawsuit and found new employment with Martin Van Buren, the new vice-president and political enemy of Henry Clay. The Court decided in May 1830 in favor of Henry Clay with the statement “Charlotte Dupee was born a slave for life.” (p.227). Henry Clay instructed his attorney to inform Charlotte to return to his home in Kentucky at her expense. Students will find Henry Clay’s letter to his attorney of interest:
“I approve entirely of your order to the Marshall to imprison Lotty (Charlotte).Her husband and children are here. Her refusal therefore to return home, when requested by me to do so through you, was unnatural towards them as it was disobedient to me. She has been her own mistress, upwards of 18 months, since I left her in Washington, in consequence of the groundless writ which she was prompted to bring against me for her freedom; and as that writ has been decided against her, and as her conduct has created insubordination among her relatives here, I think it is high time to put a stop to it.” (p. 227)
Charlotte Dupee was taken to the D.C. City Jail and sent to Henry Clay’s daughter in New Orleans. Charlotte’s freedom suit was never reported in the newspapers. In 1840, Henry Clay emancipated Charlotte and her daughter Mary Anne. She was 53 years old. However, Henry Clay did not free Mary Anne’s children. Have your students examine slavery in America with snapshots taken in 1790 (ratification of the U.S. Constitution), 1800 (rise of Jeffersonian Republicans), 1810 (end to the importation of slaves), 1820 (Missouri Compromise), 1830 (Charlotte Dupee’s freedom suit), 1831 (Nat Turner’s Rebellion), and now in 1840 (Whig Party).
Fears Every Black American Experienced
There were more urban riots in the summer of 1835 than in any other year. The 1835 riots in Washington D.C. exploded in the Washington Navy Yard following the decision to bring thirteen slaves and three free black men to complete the work on the USS Columbia. The fear of industrial slave labor might replace skilled white workers. After someone reported the theft of compression pins from the blacksmith shop, the white workers went on strike.
The diary (1813-1865) kept by Michael Shiner, one of the enslaved workers who was a literate carpenter reveals the fears of the black community and a unique perspective of the events in Washington D.C. Michael Shiner was one year away from his freedom when the riots of 1835 happened. Another event that shook America was the death of John Marshall on July 6, which was followed by the nomination of Roger B. Taney. The diary of Michael Shiner also recorded the arrest of a young African American, Arthur Bowen for the attempted murder of a notable white woman, which involved the U.S. marines to keep order and prevent the lynching of Arthur Bowen. The U.S. district attorney was Francis Scott Key, a tough prosecutor and brother-in-law to Chief Justice Taney, who arrested Professor Reuben Crandall, a botany professor at Yale. There are many factors related to these events in the summer of 1835 for students to analyze and each of them reveals engaging questions about abolition, the influence of the Ebenezer African Methodist Church on Fourth and G Streets, the inequality experienced by residents in the area around the Navy Yard (Northeast), the citywide Memorial Petition calling for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, the slave trading corporation of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield with scheduled transports of slaves to New Orleans, Natchez, and other ports in the South. Some of the questions that intrigued me are:
Is holding abolitionist literature and distributing a pamphlet to another person the same as publishing abolitionist literature?
Francis Scott Key represented slaves in their request for freedom, is a founding member of the American Colonization Society, defended slave holders, owned seven slaves, freed four of his slaves, and facilitated the sale of 272 black men, women, and children for $115,000 to balance the accounts of Georgetown College. How should I teach my students about the life of Francis Scott Key?
Did the rhetoric of the abolitionists, intended to end slavery, encourage slaves to become violent and become counter-productive to the cause of freedom?
Was the decision to expand the U.S. Supreme Court in 1837 from seven to nine justices, motivated to protect the property of slaveholders or by the westward expansion of the United States? (President Jackson appointed seven of the nine justices)
The evidence in Chapter 8 regarding the financial implications of how slaves were “assembled, sold, and transported,” the exponential impact of how the sale of a few enslaved persons affected the lives of hundreds, the importance of understanding how the panics or economic recessions of 1837 and 1857 contributed to the sale of enslaved persons and the breaking up of families, and the legal theories that were advanced by slaveholders and abolitionists is powerful and clearly articulated. The claims and arguments in this chapter regarding systemic racism in the United States are convincing.
Enslaved persons were treated in every contract and sale as part of a “lot.” Individuals were clearly property and packaged in a way that mortgages are sold as bonds in today’s market. Individual slaves were sold as priced commodities based on their skin colors, genders, skills, histories, and ages. They were sold to different buyers in a similar way that odd lot purchases of stocks are bought and sold on today’s stock exchanges. Slaves were chattel and appraised for their value. For example, Ann Bell lived independently in Washington D.C. from approximately 1825 to 1836. Unknown to her, she was privately bequeathed as estate property by Gerald T. Greenfield of Tennessee.
“Thirteen-year old Andrew was valued at $375. Caroline, now nine years old, was priced at $250. Eleven-year old Mary Ellen and seven-year old George were valued at $200 each. Five-year old Daniel and his three-year old sister Harriett were priced at $100 each.” (p. 303)
2. After the expiration of the Charter of the Bank of the United States in 1836, state banks developed “property banking” to provide capital for land speculation in land and slaves. For example, the Union Bank of Louisiana arranged for slaveholders to leverage their land and slaves as collateral for expanding their cotton plantations. This was called “hypothecation.” (p. 281). Unfortunately, when supply was greater than demand, creditors demanded payments on loans in gold or specie, or the price of cotton, sugar, or tobacco declined, slaves were traded and sold. It was heartbreaking for families who were broken up.
3. Slavery was legally defined at the state level. For example, in Louisiana ALL Negroes of black color were “presumed to be slaves.” Slaves could not be freed through a will because they were required to leave the state. In Maryland, the General Assembly ratified a constitutional amendment in 1837 stating that “the relation of master and slave, in this State, shall not be abolished unless by unanimous vote of the General Assembly and with full compensation to slaveholders.” (p. 263) The reason for this new law was that fugitives were not being returned to Maryland from free states as required by the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act without a legal definition that slaves were property.
5. During the decade of 1831-1840, more than 285,000 slaves from Maryland and Virginia were sold through interstate trade – about 30,000 a year or about 80 a day. (p. 271)
6. The free black population in Maryland doubled between 1790-1800 from 10,000 to 20,000. Forty years later, the number of free blacks had more than tripled to 62,000, and four in every ten African Americans were free. (p. 316)
Slaves purchased on the market walked (perhaps 400-500 miles) to their new destinations in the Carolinas and Georgia or transported on vessels owned by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, to New Orleans and Natchez.
“Their vessels, built in Connecticut, had been designed specifically for the slave trade, and their holds were similar to those in the ships that plied the transatlantic slave trade. Each captive had only about 36 cubic feet of space, (6x3x2) sometimes less, when more than 180 people were jammed into the tightly packed holds below decks. Built for Franklin and Armfield’s in 1833, the Uncas carried thousands to New Orleans in the booming interstate slave trade. Franklin and Armfield typically separated the men and boys from the woman and girls on the voyage and heavily fortified the section of the ship holding the men. Nothing prevented the captain or the officers from entering the women’s hold and seizing any of them for sex. The Uncas carried approximately 50 people.” (p. 290)
In 1850, the slave trade in the District of Columbia ended with the Compromise of 1850. The Fugitive Slave Act followed the neutral language in the Constitution of “persons held to service or labor” instead of slaves. Although these words could provide evidence that slaves were persons with basic constitutional rights of due process under the Fifth Amendment, they were seized without a warrant. Even Frederick Douglass, a runaway, was at risk of being returned to slavery!
Professor Thomas raises excellent questions for students to answer:
Did enslaved persons have any rights under the Constitution?
Was slavery a local condition without fundamental legitimacy in the law and therefore restricted to certain, specific restraints?
Did enslaved persons lack any rights at all, and was slavery national in scope and legal authority under the Constitution?
The answers to these questions are difficult as reflected in the response of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. The Compromise of 1850 made Garrison choose between the U.S. Constitution and the moral evil of slavery.
“Their idealism was such that they would not participate in purchasing the freedom of a single enslaved person who fled bondage.” (p. 318)
One of the Performance Expectations for students in New Jersey public schools is to learn about free black communities:
6.1.12.HistoryUP.2.b: Analyze the impact and contributions of African American leaders and institutions in the development and activities of black communities in the North and South before and after the Civil War
Although Maryland had the third highest population of slaves in the United States with more than a hundred thousand people in bondage, (p.6), it was also the home to more than 8,000 free blacks living in communities, such as Annapolis and Baltimore and organizing institutions. (p. 42). Forty years later, the number of free blacks was 62,000, and four in every ten African Americans were free. (p. 316) Students need to know this!
Another insight I learned from reading Question of Freedom was the diversity of Maryland regarding plantation slavery in the Chesapeake Bay area and the absence of slavery in Frederick County in northwestern Maryland. (p.91)
The evidence in A Question of Freedom, regarding the presence of systemic racism in the United States is convincing and it is presented over 240 years beginning with Mary Queen
For further inquiry and exploration, research the digital resources on the freedom suits of enslaved persons from Maryland.
Book Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director
I am a history teacher who wanted to learn about the perspectives of racial inequality and social justice as a result of the events during the summer of 2020. Although I have a strong content background in the history of African Americans, slavery, reconstruction, prejudice and discrimination, constitutional law, the economics of poverty, and human rights, I never taught a course on social inequality, criminal justice, or how to address problems in this area.
A former student, Dr. Christopher Borgen, who is a law professor at St. John’s University, introduced me to the Equal Justice Initiative and its founder, Bryan Stevenson. After visiting the EJI website and learning from others that Bryan Stevenson was a past speaker at an NCSS convention, I read his book, all 66 pages in about 30 minutes!
The book was different from what I was expecting. When I read the description on the Amazon website, I was expecting stories of convicted felons on death row who were falsely accused and then represented by Dr. Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. Instead, I discovered that I shared the same hopes, values, and mission as Bryan Stevenson, even though our life experiences were very different. The things we shared were loving grandmothers, disappointing high school educational experiences, religious faith, and a calling to help people by making a difference in their lives. My world view that we are placed into situations by circumstance (or divine intervention) was reinforced in the 66 pages of what I read.
Bryan Stevenson lived in a rural town in southern Delaware from 1959 until he graduated from Eastern University (PA) in 1977. He attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. After moving to Atlanta, he was an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in 1989 he founded the non-profit law center, Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. His life’s work is committed to eliminating life-without-parole sentences and capital punishment for juveniles. The Equal Justice Initiative have won reversals or release for 135 wrongly convicted death row prisoners.
The EJI opened the Legacy Museum in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama to focus on racial inequality and the challenges of race discrimination in the criminal justice system in the United States. The current digital exhibits on racial justice, Reconstruction, and criminal justice reform are informative.
As a white, middle class, educated person living in a suburban community, my wife and I taught our children and now we are teaching our grandchildren that the police are your friend. We instill in them that if you are ever in trouble to seek the advice of the police who are easily recognized by their uniforms. This is teachable because all of us deserve to be treated equally! The book provides examples of how “our society applies a presumption of dangerousness and guilt to young black men, and that’s what leads to wrongful arrests ad wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences, not just wrongful shootings.” The example of injustice is the story of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Ronda Morrison, an eighteen-year old white woman. He was treated unfairly because he was targeted, the victim of false testimonies, convicted of a life sentence by an all-white jury, and then this sentence was changed to the death sentence by judicial override. This short book emphasizes the power of mercy and redemption and how simple interventions based on perseverance can lead to justice and goodness and change lives.
The K-12 educational experience of Bryan Stevenson gave me a different perspective of my own experiences. I was educated in the Paterson Public Schools from 1952-1964. I went to overcrowded schools, we were attacked by black teenagers from the other side of the real estate dividing line, lacked a college preparatory experience even though I was in the Academic program, and skipped two years graduating at age 16. Bryan Stevenson’s experience was similar and yet opposite. Although he went to school a decade later, his mother and grandmother were anxious every day about his experiences in an integrated school. Both of our mothers and grandparents were influential in teaching us to read (newspapers and encyclopedias) and we were both the first in our families to attend and graduate from college.
The second perspective I gained from this book was first introduced to me in Race Matters by Cornell West. I read this book in the 1990s and the narrative demonstrated by African Americans through all the years of segregation, insecurity, and prejudice is one of love, hope, and a desire for acceptance. During the current national dialogue of racial inequality and social injustice, I think back to my first years as a teacher at Martin Luther High School in Maspeth, Queens. This was the year of the strike by teachers in the New York Public Schools and the year that neighborhood schools ended and busing to integrated schools began. As a new teacher, I was instructed to start an African American History course, even though college courses in this field were rare and not part of my education. As a result, I learned with my students, enrollment increased to multiple sections, and my students taught me about their experiences in East New York, (and other communities), threats against them on public transportation, and the difficulty in finding work. I also learned about the experiences of their parents in the workforce at a time when the Bakke decision by the Supreme Court challenged the validity of minority quotas.
The third perspective, the one that motivated me to write this book review, was the role and influence of the church and the driving values that motivated the life work and decisions of Bryan Stevenson. I discovered in this narrative the importance of social and emotional learning, that solutions are always a process rather than an answer, and the importance of teachers in educating students.
It is important for teachers to understand the narrative of fear. This is evident in the restrictions of the plantation, denial of literacy, and Jim Crow segregation. It is also evident in the classification of drug addicts and users as criminals instead of individuals with a sickness or mental health condition. Fear is a powerful force in the human condition. We are taught to fear the consequences of breaking laws and rules as well as fearing failure.
It is equally important for teachers to teach and be a voice of hope and help. The social studies teachers I am privileged to know want to make a positive difference in the lives of their students. This is why civic education and historical context is important to them because the context supports equality, freedom, respect, justice, respect, and human rights. These are the threads that weave every day in the lessons of ancient societies, the Enlightenment, totalitarian rulers, colonial America, abolition, suffrage, Reconstruction, the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, and the American Dream.
The impressive personal story of Bryan Stevenson is one of notable accomplishments but the difference he has been able to make in the lives of people through the Equal Justice Initiative is very similar to the impactful stories of teachers. Although our calling is to teach social studies, we are also teachers of life skills, the extraordinary lessons of handling crises, and how to persevere through the frustrations of declining test scores and disappointments. Teachers are always modeling resilience, perseverance, and help.
Another lesson that was reinforced for me through this book was the concept of leadership. Leadership in the classroom is demonstrated by getting our students to support common goals of listening to others, searching for the truth, asking questions, doing our best, and supporting each other. Bryan Stevenson also includes speaking out for what is right! This includes making our classrooms and schools free from fear and anger, free from complacency and ignorance, and places where students feel comfortable to ask questions, learn different perspectives, and respect the competing ideas that are inherent in a democracy.
There are many lessons throughout this book and they will speak to each person in a different way. Regarding civic engagement, it is important to follow the calling in one’s heart in addition to their cognitive knowledge of what needs to be changed. It also means to think small when there are big problems. Bryan Stevenson lives in a state with a very high poverty rate and a record of harsh punishments against people. The lesson I came away with is to make a difference where I can, even if it is in the lives of just a few. For your students, let them know that they are witnesses to everything they see – bullying, sexism, injustice, inequality, favoritism, patronizing, cheating, lying, exaggerating, complacency, etc.
The book takes only a few hours to read but the messages in the book will last a long time!
Editor’s Note:This is the third day of a multi-day lesson in a three-lesson sequence designed for fourth grade on slavery and New York developed by April Francis for the Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Integrated Social Studies/ELA Curriculum.
Aim: How did New Yorkers challenge slavery? NYS Social Studies Framework: 4.5a: There were slaves in New York State. People worked to fight against slavery and for change; Students will investigate people who took action to abolish slavery, including Samuel Cornish, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Tubman.
Social Studies Practices: Gathering, Interpreting, and Using Evidence; Comparison and Contextualization; Geographic Reasoning; Economics and Economic Systems; Civic Participation
Next Gen. ELA Standards: o 4R6: In informational texts, compare and contrast a primary and secondary source on the same event or topic. (RI); o 4R8: Explain how claims in a text are supported by relevant reasons and evidence. (RI&RL) o 4W5: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to respond and support analysis, reflection, and research by applying grade 4 reading standards. o 4SL4: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace and volume appropriate for audience.
Learning Objectives: Identify Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, The Jerry Rescue, African Free School, and the AntiSlavery Society. Define resist and resistance.
Analyze the Underground Railroad system. Decipher and understand various primary and secondary sources. Develop individual and group presentation skills. Evaluate which form of resistance was most successful in ending slavery in NYS.
Materials: Video: Harriet Tubman (4:48 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watchv=Dv7YhVKFqbQ&feature=youtu.be o Source 1. Harriet Tubman biography o Source 2. NYS Map of the Underground Railroad o Source 3a & 3b. African Free School o Source 4. Frederick Douglass & The North Star o Source 5. Anti-Slavery Society o Source 6. The “Jerry Rescue” Syracuse, NY
Formative Task: Students will serve experts on one form of resistance used against slavery and present it as a group to the whole class.
Lesson Narrative & Procedure: In this lesson, students will be introduced to the term “resistance” and analyze various methods New Yorkers used to fight against the system of slavery. Students will be introduced to famous abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison. Through video analysis, students will understand how the secret Underground Railroad system was used to help enslaved people escape to freedom. To synthesize their learning, students will be asked to summarize the methods some New Yorkers used to resist the slave system.
Preparation for Day 1: Make copies of “Source 1: Harriet Tubman biography” and the “Circle Map” worksheet. Queue video: Harriet Tubman (4:48 minutes)
Day 1 Engage (10 minutes): The teacher should introduce the supporting question “How did some New Yorkers resist the slavery system?” by having a student read it aloud to the class. The teacher should ask students if they know what the term “resist” means. After students respond, the teacher should give an example of “resisting” and then share a definition of the term. Once students have a foundation of the term “resist” the teacher should ask students, “Based on what we have learned, why do you think some New Yorkers would want to resist the slave system?” Students should respond with examples from the previous lessons.
Explore (20 minutes): The teacher should distribute Source 1: Harriet Tubman Biography. Ask students what they know about Harriet Tubman. Students will share various answers. After students respond, the teacher can share they will participate in the read aloud. During the read aloud, students can annotate the reading. Additionally, the teacher can choose to play the animated video Harriet Tubman as a support to the reading (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWVr57o_ElU ).
Once students have finished the reading (and/or video), students share main ideas on their circle map, that answer the questions: a. How did Harriet Tubman resist the slave system? b. How did she help others? Ask, “What can this biography inform us about Harriet Tubman’s character? Do you know of anyone today that would be similar to Harriet Tubman in character?
Explain (10 minutes): After discussing Harriet Tubman, the teacher can ask students, “Based on your own knowledge and our reading today, what do you know about the Underground Railroad?” Students can share various answers. The teacher can then state, “New York State played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. Let’s investigate how the Underground Railroad worked in helping people resist the slave system.”
Elaborate (15 minutes): The teacher will have students work in pairs on the “Underground Railroad” packet. The student worksheet is located on the last page of the packet. Once students have completed the packet, the teacher can participate in a whole class review. The teacher should ensure to ask follow-up or clarifying questions when needed based on student responses.
Evaluate (10 minutes)
After review, the teacher should distribute the Exit Ticket- Day 1 to each student, asking them to respond to the question prompt: Do you think you would have been able to escape using the Underground Railroad? Explain. a. An alternative activity to the “exit ticket” is creating a Padlet board online for student responses.
Day 2 Preparation: Print Sources 2-6 and create “Stations” for student groups. Make copies of the “Resisting Slavery” Graphic Organizer Chart.
Engage (15 minutes): The teacher should reintroduce the supporting question “How did some New Yorkers resist the slavery system?” and have students complete a brainstorm of their understanding of yesterday’s lesson using the “3-2-1” method: a) 3 things they learned from yesterday’s lesson. b) 2 things they found interesting. c) 1 question they still have? After reviewing using the 3-2-1 method, the teacher can have students analyze Sources 2-6, in a group format.
The teacher can state: a. “Today we are going to analyze other ways people in New York resisted the slave system in the 1800s. We will be working in cooperative teams, using your “Resistance of Slavery in New York” chart to record your findings. Each team will be assigned one document to analyze, and then they will report on this document to the class.
i. Station 1. Source 2. NYS Map of UGRR (printed in color or viewed on a smartboard)
ii. Station 2. Source 3a & 3b. African Free School
iii. Station 3. Source 4. Frederick Douglass & The North Star
iv. Station 4. Source 5a & 5b. Anti-Slavery Society
v. Station 5. Source 6. The “Jerry Rescue” Syracuse, NY
Note: Teachers should use their knowledge of their students and assign the documents based on student levels. Documents can also be modified to meet specific needs of individual classrooms.
Explore & Explain (15 minutes). Students should analyze the document they were assigned for their group. As a group, they should fill out their portion of the Graphic Organizer – Resisting Slavery and then decide how they will present this information to the rest of the class.
Elaborate (15 minutes). After student analysis, each team should share their “expert” knowledge of the source they were assigned in a presentation format. Students can use the Source Analysis Guide-Historical Thinking Chart adapted from the Stanford Historical Education Group (SHEG) to help develop their presentation. For each group presentation, the teacher should project the source onto the Smartboard so it is visible for all students. While one group is sharing, all members should be recording key points onto their individual “Resisting Slavery” graphic organizers.
Evaluate (10 minutes). After group presentations, the teacher can distribute the Exit Ticket- Day 2 and state, “Slavery was finally banned in New York State in 1827, ‘Which method of resistance do you think was most successful in ending slavery in New York State? Why?’”
Background: (A) Harriet Tubman was born a slave. Her parents named her Araminta “Minty” Ross. She changed her name in 1849 when she escaped. She adopted the name Harriet after her mother and the last name Tubman after her husband. Tubman suffered a head injury as a teenager which gave her…sleeping spells. She was deeply religious and according to her it was her religious beliefs that gave her courage rescue friends and family over and over again. She remained illiterate [unable to read or write] for her entire life.
(B) Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. In a decade she guided over 300 slaves to freedom; abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison thought she deserved the nickname “Moses”. She worked hard to save money to return and save more slaves. In time she built a reputation and many Underground Railroad supporters provided her with funds and shelter to support her trips.
(C) During the Civil War, Tubman served as a nurse, cook, laundress, spy and scout. After the Emancipation Proclamation she returned to Auburn where she lived the rest of her life. She opened her doors to those in need. With donations and the money from her vegetable garden she was able to support herself and those she helped. She raised money to open schools for African Americans and gave speeches on Women’s rights. Her dream was to build a home for the elderly and in 1908 the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly was created.
Source 2. Underground Railroad Routes in New York State The Underground Railroad was a connection of people helping enslaved people escape from slavery in the early and mid19th century. It included free blacks, whites, church people, and abolitionists. Enslaved Africans traveled to freedom by any means available, using homes as stops, songs, and secret codes. This map shows escape routes used by runaways when traveling through New York State.
Source 3a. New York African Free School Right after the American Revolution, the New York Manumission Society was created. It worked to end the slave trade around the world and to achieve the abolition of slavery in the new county. It established the African Free School in New York City, the first education organization for Black Americans in North America. It served both free blacks and the children of enslaved people.
Source 3b.African Free School Student Award for Edward T. Haines Source: https://www.nyhistory.org/web/africanfreeschool Edward T. Haines proudly displays his handwriting skill and his title as assistant monitor general, a position that carried significant responsibilities. The 1820 U.S. census lists an African American ‘Hains’ family with a boy Edward’s age living in New York City’s Fifth Ward, a west-side neighborhood south of Canal Street that was the home of many free people of color in New York City.
Source 5a – Anti-Slavery Society William Lloyd Garrison was born December 10, 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1830 he started an abolitionist paper, The Liberator. In 1832 he helped form the New England Anti-Slavery Society When the Civil War broke out, he continued to speak against the Constitution as a pro-slavery document. When the civil war ended, he at last saw the abolition of slavery. He died May 24, 1879 in New York City. Source: www.biography.com
Source 5b – Anti-Slavery Society Gerrit Smith founded the New York State Anti-slavery Society in Peterboro, New York in 1835.
This monument, added to Clinton Square, Syracuse, NY in 2001, celebrates the October 1, 1851, rescue of William “Jerry” Henry, an escaped slave from Missouri. Henry had been arrested in Syracuse and since he was an escaped slave; law officers were eager to follow the Fugitive Slave Act and wanted to return him to Missouri. The Fugitive Slave Act was a United States law that said runaways, even in free states, had to be returned to their masters. Henry was arrested the same day an abolitionist meeting was taking place in the city. A large group of fifty-two men stormed a police station, pounded on down its doors, and rescued “Jerry” Henry. Within a few days, “Jerry” escaped to freedom in Kingston, Ontario. The “Jerry Rescue” itself was organized by area abolitionist leaders.
How did some New Yorkers resist the slave system? Directions: Use this chart to organize your information for each document.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century and used by African American enslaved people to escape into free states, Canada and Nova Scotia with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. It is believed that around 100,000 runaways between 1810 and 1860 escaped using the network. The majority of the runaways came from the upper south states that bordered free states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland.
The Underground Railroad was not located underground, and it was not a railroad. It was symbolically underground as the network’s activities were secret and illegal, so they had to remain “underground” to help fugitive slaves stay out of sight. The term “railroad” was used because the railroad was a system of transportation and its supporters used railroad code to communicate in secret language. Runaways used songs called spirituals to communicate with each other. Homes where fugitives (runaways) would stay and eat were called “stations” or “depots” the owner of the house was the “station master” and the “conductor” was the person responsible to move slaves from station to station. Those financing the Underground Railroad by donating money, food, and clothing were called “stockholders”.
Codes and Songs of the Underground Railroad Supporters of the Underground Railroad used words railroad conductors employed every day to create their own code as secret language in order to help slaves escape. Below are a sample of some of the words used:
Songs were used in everyday life by enslaved African Americans. Singing was a tradition brought from Africa by the first enslaved people; sometimes their songs are called spirituals. Singing served many purposes such as providing a rhythm for manual work, inspiration and motivation. Singing was also used to express their values and solidarity with each other and during celebrations. Songs were used as tools to remember and communicate since the majority of enslaved African Americans could not read. Harriet Tubman and others used songs as a strategy to communicate their struggle for freedom. Coded songs contained words giving directions on how to escape also known as signal songs or where to meet known as map songs.
When the Sun comes back And the first quail calls Follow the Drinking Gourd. For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom if you follow the Drinking Gourd. The riverbank makes a very good road. The dead trees will show you the way. Left foot, peg foot, traveling on, Follow the Drinking Gourd. The river ends between two hills Follow the Drinking Gourd. For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom if you follow the Drinking Gourd.
This song suggests escaping in the spring as the days get longer. The drinking gourd is a water dipper which is a code name for the constellation Big Dipper which points to the Pole Star towards the north. Moss grows on the north side of dead trees, so if the Big Dipper is not visible, dead trees will guide them north.
Why do you think it was known as the Underground Railroad??
Why do you think runaways were called fugitives?
What role did songs play in the Underground Railroad?
What are some of the symbols in the song and what do they refer to?
This dramatization designed for classrooms explores the lives and words of freedom-seekers from New York and the South and Black abolitionist who fought to end slavery in the United States. Each speaker is a real historic figure and addresses the audience in his or her own words.
Background: The Dutch West India Company (WIC) founded New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1624. The name was changed to New York in honor of the Duke of York after Great Britain took control over the small settlement in 1664. The Duke of York was the younger brother of the King of England and a future king himself. He was also the head of the Royal African Company, which was engaged in the transAtlantic slave trade. Many enslaved Africans were branded with the letters RAC, the company’s initials, or DY, which stood for Duke of York.
The first eleven enslaved Africans were brought to New Amsterdam in 1626 to work for the WIC. The first slave auction in what would become New York City was probably held in 1655. The city Common Council established the Wall Street slave market in 1711. The last enslaved Africans in New York were freed on July 4, 1827, which meant slavery existed in New Amsterdam/New York for over 200 years, which is longer than there has been freedom in the city.
This play introduces African Americans, some born enslaved and some born free, who helped transform New York City and state into a center of resistance to slavery. It also tells about the ugly truth of slavery in New Amsterdam and New York. Each of the speakers in this play is a real historical figure and the words that they utter are from their speeches and writing or from contemporary newspaper accounts.
The play opens with a petition from Emanuel and Reytory Pieterson. They were free Blacks in colonial New Amsterdam. In 1661, they petitioned the Dutch government to recognize that their adopted son, eighteen-year old Anthony van Angola, was a free man because his parents were free when he was born and he was raised by free people.
Venture Smith was born in Africa, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and transported, first to Barbados, and then Fisher’s Island off the east coast of Long Island. In a memoir, published in 1796, Smith described brutal treatment while enslaved. Jupiter Hammon was the first Black poet published in the United States. Austin Steward was brought as a slave from Virginia to upstate New York where he secured his freedom and established himself as a merchant. Peter Williams, Jr. was an Episcopal priest who organized the St. Philip’s African Church in New York City. Thomas James was born a slave in Canajoharie, New York and later became an important figure in the AME church. John B. Russwurm published the first African American newspaper in the United States. William Hamilton was co-founder of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. James McCune Smith was the first African American to obtain a medical degree. David Ruggles was a founder and secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance.
Samuel Ringgold Ward’s family escaped enslavement in Maryland when he was a child. He became an abolitionist, newspaper editor, and Congregationalist minister. Henry Highland Garnet also escaped to the freedom with his family when he was a child and he became one of the most radical Black abolitionists. Solomon Northup was a free Black man in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. After twelve years of enslavement he was able to contact his family and secured his freedom. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, Frederick Douglass became a leading abolitionist orator and newspaper editor. Jermain Loguen was an abolitionist, teacher, minister and Underground Railroad “station master” in Syracuse.
After gaining her freedom when New York State abolished slavery, Isabella Bomfree became Sojourner Truth, an itinerant minister and abolitionist and feminist speaker. Harriet Jacobs wrote about her life enslaved in North Carolina and the discrimination suffered by free Blacks in the North. James Pennington opposed segregation in New York and championed education for African American children. Elizabeth Jennings was a free woman of color who challenged segregation on New York City street cars. William Wells Brown, a former freedom-seeker, worked as a steamboatman on Lake Erie helping other freedom-seekers escape to Canada. Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a writer and an activist for African Americans and woman.
New York’s African Americans Demand Freedom
1. Reytory Pieterson: Reytory and Emanuel Pieterson were free Blacks in colonial New Amsterdam. In 1661 they petitioned the Dutch government to recognize that eighteen-year old Anthony van Angola, who they raised after the death of his parents, was born free and should legally be recognized as a free man.
Reytory, in the year 1643, on the third of August, stood as godparent or witness at the Christian baptism of a little son of one Anthony van Angola, begotten with his own wife named Louise, the which aforementioned Anthony and Louise were both free Negroes; and about four weeks thereafter the aforementioned Louise came to depart this world, leaving behind the aforementioned little son named Anthony, the which child your petitioner out of Christian affection took to herself, and with the fruits of her hands’ bitter toil she reared him as her own child, and up to the present supported him, taking all motherly solicitude and care for him . . .Your petitioners….very respectfully address themselves to you, noble and right honorable lords, humbly begging that your noble honors consent to grant a stamp in this margin of this document . . . declaring] that he himself, being of free parents, reared and brought up without burden or expense of the West Indian Company . . . may be declared by your noble honors to be a free person.
2. Venture Smith: Venture Smith was born in Africa, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and transported, first to Barbados and then Fisher’s Island off the east coast of Long Island. When he was twenty-two years old, Smith married and attempted to escape from bondage. He eventually surrendered to his master, but was permitted to earn money to purchase his freedom and the freedom of his family. He published his memoirs in 1796.
My master having set me off my business to perform that day and then left me to perform it, his son came up to me in the course of the day, big with authority, and commanded me very arrogantly to quit my present business and go directly about what he should order me. I replied to him that my master had given me so much to perform that day, and that I must faithfully complete it in that time. He then broke out into a great rage, snatched a pitchfork and went to lay me over the head therewith, but I as soon got another and defended myself with it, or otherwise he might have murdered me in his outrage. He immediately called some people who were within hearing at work for him, and ordered them to take his hair rope and come and bind me with it. They all tried to bind me, but in vain, though there were three assistants in number. I recovered my temper, voluntarily caused myself to be bound by the same men who tried in vain before, and carried before my young master, that he might do what he pleased with me. He took me to a gallows made for the purpose of hanging cattle on, and suspended me on it. I was released and went to work after hanging on the gallows about an hour.
3. Jupiter Hammon:Jupiter Hammon, who was enslaved on Long Island, was the first Black poet published in the United States. He addressed this statement to the African population of New York in 1786, soon after national independence.
Liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly, and by our good conduct, prevail on our masters to set us free. That liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white people, in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost, to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us.
4. Austin Steward: Austin Steward was born in 1793 in Prince William County, Virginia. As a youth, he was brought to upstate New York where he eventually secured his freedom and established himself as a merchant in Rochester.
We traveled northward, through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and a portion of New York, to Sodus Bay, where we halted for some time. We made about twenty miles per day, camping out every night, and reached that place after a march of twenty days. Every morning the overseer called the roll, when every slave must answer to his or her name, felling to the ground with his cowhide, any delinquent who failed to speak out in quick time.
After the roll had been called, and our scanty breakfast eaten, we marched on again, our company presenting the appearance of some numerous caravan crossing the desert of Sahara. When we pitched our tents for the night, the slaves must immediately set about cooking not their supper only, but their breakfast, so as to be ready to start early the next morning, when the tents were struck; and we proceeded on our journey in this way to the end . . . My master . . . hired me out to a man by the name of Joseph Robinson . . . He was . . .tyrannical and cruel to those in his employ; and having hired me as a “slave boy,” he appeared to feel at full liberty to wreak his brutal passion on me at any time, whether I deserved rebuke or not; . . . he would frequently draw from the cart-tongue a heavy iron pin, and beat me over the head with it, so unmercifully that he frequently sent the blood flowing over my scanty apparel, and from that to the ground, before he could feel satisfied.
5. Peter Williams, Jr.: Reverend Peter Williams, Jr. was an Episcopal priest who organized the St. Philip’s African Church in New York City. In 1808, Williams delivered this prayer commemorating the outlawing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by the United States.
Oh, God! we thank thee, that thou didst condescend to listen to the cries of Africa’s wretched sons; and that thou didst interfere in their behalf. At thy call humanity sprang forth, and espoused the cause of the oppressed; one hand she employed in drawing from their vitals the deadly arrows of injustice; and the other in holding a shield, to defend them from fresh assaults; and at that illustrious moment, when the sons of 76 pronounced these United States free and independent; when the spirit of patriotism, erected a temple sacred to liberty; when the inspired voice of Americans first uttered those noble sentiments, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; and when the bleeding African, lifting his fetters, exclaimed, “am I not a man and a brother”; then with redoubled efforts, the angel of humanity strove to restore to the African race, the inherent rights of man. . . . May the time speedily commence, when Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands; when the sun of liberty shall beam resplendent on the whole African race; and its genial influences, promote the luxuriant growth of knowledge and virtue.
6. Thomas James: Reverend Thomas James was born enslaved in Canajoharie, New York. When he was eight years-old, James was separated from his mother, brother and sister when they were sold away to another owner. He escaped from slavery when he was seventeen. He later became an important figure in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
While I was still in the seventeenth year of my age, Master Kimball was killed in a runaway accident; and at the administrator’s sale I was sold with the rest of the property . . .My new master had owned me but a few months when he sold me, or rather traded me, . . . in exchange for a yoke of steers, a colt and some additional property. I remained with Master Hess from March until June of the same year, when I ran away. My master had worked me hard, and at last undertook to whip me. This led me to seek escape from slavery. I arose in the night, and taking the newly staked line of the Erie canal for my route, traveled along it westward until, about a week later, I reached the village of Lockport. No one had stopped me in my flight. Men were at work digging the new canal at many points, but they never troubled themselves even to question me. I slept in barns at night and begged food at farmers’ houses along my route. At Lockport a colored man showed me the way to the Canadian border. I crossed the Niagara at Youngstown on the ferry-boat, and was free!
7. John B. Russwurm: Freedom’s Journal was the first African American newspaper published in the United States. It was founded and edited by Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm in New York City in 1827. Its editorials stressed the fight against slavery and racial discrimination.
We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly, though in the estimation of some mere trifles; for though there are many in society who exercise towards us benevolent feelings; still (with sorrow we confess it) there are others who make it their business to enlarge upon the least trifle, which tends to the discredit of any person of color; and pronounce anathemas and denounce our whole body for the misconduct of this guilty one . . . Education being an object of the highest importance to the welfare of society, we shall endeavor to present just and adequate views of it, and to urge upon our brethren the necessity and expediency of training their children, while young, to habits of industry, and thus forming them for becoming useful members of society . . . The civil rights of a people being of the greatest value, it shall ever be our duty to vindicate our brethren, when oppressed; and to lay the case before the public. We shall also urge upon our brethren, (who are qualified by the laws of the different states) the expediency of using their elective franchise.
8. William Hamilton: William Hamilton was a carpenter and co-founder of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. On July 4, 1827 he delivered an Emancipation Day Address celebrating the end of slavery in New York State.
“LIBERTY! kind goddess! brightest of the heavenly deities that guide the affairs or men. Oh Liberty! where thou art resisted and irritated, thou art terrible as the raging sea and dreadful as a tornado. But where thou art listened to and obeyed, thou art gentle as the purling stream that meanders through the mead; as soft and as cheerful as the zephyrs that dance upon the summers breeze, and as bounteous as autumn’s harvest. To thee, the sons of Africa, in this once dark, gloomy, hopeless, but now fairest, brightest, and most cheerful of thy domain, do owe a double obligation of gratitude. Thou hast entwined and bound fast the cruel hands of oppression – thou hast by the powerful charm of reason deprived the monster of his strength – he dies, he sinks to rise no more. Thou hast loosened the hard bound fetters by which we were held. And by a voice sweet as the music of heaven, yet strong and powerful, reaching to the extreme boundaries of the state of New-York, hath declared that we the people of color, the sons of Africa, are free.”
9. James McCune Smith: Dr. James McCune Smith was an African American physician who studied medicine in Glasgow, Scotland. Here he describes a manumission day parade in New York that he attended as a youth.
A splendid looking black man, mounted on a milk-white steed, then his aids on horseback, dashing up and down the line; then the orator of the day, also mounted, with a handsome scroll, appearing like a baton in his right hand, then in due order, splendidly dressed in scarfs of silk with gold-edgings, and with colored bands of music and their banners appropriately lettered and painted, followed, the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, the Wilberforce Benevolent Society, and the Clarkson Benevolent Society; then the people five or six abreast from grown men to small boys. The sidewalks were crowded with wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of the celebrants, representing every state in the Union, and not a few with gay bandanna handkerchiefs, betraying their West Indian birth. Nor was Africa underrepresented. Hundreds who survived the middle passage and a youth in slavery joined in the joyful procession.
10. David Ruggles: David Ruggles was born free in Norwich, Connecticut in 1810. He moved to New York City in 1827 where he was a founder and secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance which aided hundreds of fugitive slaves. He also founded the city’s first Black bookstore, was a noted abolitionist lecturer, published a newspaper, and ran a boarding house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1838, he provided safe-haven in his home for a freedom-seeker named Frederick Bailey who later changed his name to Frederick Douglass.
The whites have robbed us for centuries – they made Africa bleed rivers of blood! – they have torn husbands from their wives – wives from their husbands – parents from their children – children from their parents – brothers from their sisters – sisters from their brothers, and bound them in chains – forced them into holds of vessels – subjected them to the most unmerciful tortures: starved and murdered, and doomed them to endure the horrors of slavery. . . . But why is it that it seems to you so “repugnant” to marry your sons and daughters to colored persons? Simply because public opinion is against it. Nature teaches no such “repugnance,” but experience has taught me that education only does. Do children feel and exercise that prejudice towards colored persons? Do not colored and white children play together promiscuously until the white is taught to despise the colored?
11. Samuel Ringgold Ward: Samuel Ringgold Ward’s family escaped enslavement in Maryland when he was a child. He became an abolitionist, newspaper editor, and Congregationalist minister. He was forced to flee the United States in 1851 because of his involvement in anti-slavery activity in Syracuse.
I was born on the 17th October, 1817, in that part of the State of Maryland, commonly called the Eastern Shore. My parents were slaves. I was born a slave. They escaped, and took their then only child with them . . . I grew up, in the State of New Jersey, where my parents lived till I was nine years old, and in the State of New York, where we lived for many years. My parents were always in danger of being arrested and re-enslaved. To avoid this, among their measures of caution, was the keeping of their children quite ignorant of their birthplace, and of their condition, whether free or slave, when born.
12. Solomon Northup: Solomon Northup was a free Black man in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. After twelve years of enslavement he was able to contact his family and secured his freedom. His memoir remains a powerful indictment of the slave system.
My ancestors on the paternal side were slaves in Rhode Island. They belonged to a family by the name of Northup, one of whom, removing to the State of New York, settled at Hoosic, in Rensselaer county. He brought with him Mintus Northup, my father. On the death of this gentleman, which must have occurred some fifty years ago, my father became free, having been emancipated by a direction in his will.. . . Though born a slave, and laboring under the disadvantages to which my unfortunate race is subjected, my father was a man respected for his industry and integrity, as many now living, who well remember him, are ready to testify. His whole life was passed in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, never seeking employment in those more menial positions, which seem to be especially allotted to the children of Africa. Besides giving us an education surpassing that ordinarily bestowed upon children in our condition, he acquired, by his diligence and economy, a sufficient property qualification to entitle him to the right of suffrage . . . Up to this period I had been principally engaged with my father in the labors of the farm. The leisure hours allowed me were generally either employed over my books, or playing on the violin – an amusement which was the ruling passion of my youth.
13. Henry Highland Garnet: Henry Highland Garnet escaped to freedom with his family when he was a child and became a Presbyterian minister in Troy and New York City. At the 1843 National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York, Garnet called on enslaved Africans to revolt against their masters.
Let your motto be resistance! It is in your power so to torment the God-cursed slave-holders, 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. And worse than all, you tamely submit while your lords tear your wives from your embraces and defile them before your eyes. In the name of God, we ask, are you men? Where is the blood of your fathers? Has it all run out of your veins? Awake, awake; millions of voices are calling you! Your dead fathers speak to you from their graves. Heaven, as with a voice of thunder, calls on you to arise from the dust. Let your motto be resistance! resistance! resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. Trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are four millions.
14. Frederick Douglass: Frederick Washington Bailey was born in Maryland in 1817. He was the son of a White man and an enslaved African woman so he was legally a slave. As a boy he was taught to read in violation of state law. In 1838, he escaped to New York City where he married and changed his name to Frederick Douglass. In 1847, Frederick Douglass started an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, New York.
“We solemnly dedicate the ‘North Star’ to the cause of our long oppressed and plundered fellow countrymen. May God bless the undertaking to your good. It shall fearlessly assert your rights, faithfully proclaim your wrongs, and earnestly demand for you instant and even-handed justice. Giving no quarter to slavery at the South, it will hold no truce with oppressors at the North. While it shall boldly advocate emancipation for our enslaved brethren, it will omit no opportunity to gain for the nominally free complete enfranchisement. Every effort to injure or degrade you or your cause . . . shall find in it a constant, unswerving and inflexible foe . . .”
15. Frederick Douglass: In 1852 Frederick Douglass delivered a Fourth of July speech in Rochester where he demanded to know, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
“What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? . . . Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence given by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn . . . 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 . . . 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.”
16. Frederick Douglass: In a January 1864 speech at Cooper Union in New York City, Frederick Douglass laid out his vision for the future of the country.
What we now want is a country—a free country—a country not saddened by the footprints of a single slave—and nowhere cursed by the presence of a slaveholder. We want a country which shall not brand the Declaration of Independence as a lie. We want a country whose fundamental institutions we can proudly defend before the highest intelligence and civilization of the age . . . We now want a country in which the obligations of patriotism shall not conflict with fidelity to justice and liberty . . . WE want a country . . . where no man may be imprisoned or flogged or sold for learning to read, or teaching a fellow mortal how to read . . . Liberty for all, chains for none; the black man a soldier in war, a laborer in peace; a voter at the South as well as at the North; America his permanent home, and all Americans his fellow countrymen. Such, fellow citizens, is my idea of the mission of the war. If accomplished, our glory as a nation will be complete, our peace will flow like a river, and our foundation will be the everlasting rocks.
17. Jermain Loguen: Jermain Loguen escaped from slavery in Tennessee when he was 21. Once free, Loguen became an abolitionist, teacher and minister. In 1841, he moved to Syracuse, where as the “station master” of the local underground railroad “depot,” he helped over one thousand “fugitives” escape to Canada. In 1850, Reverend Loguen denounced the Fugitive Slave Law.
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 I believe you will do it, for your freedom and honor are involved as well as mine, . . . you will be the saviors 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!
18. Sojourner Truth: Sojourner Truth, whose original name was Isabella Bomfree, was born and enslaved near Kingston, New York. After gaining her freedom she became an itinerant preacher who campaigned for abolition and woman’s rights. During the Civil War, Truth urged young men to enlist and organized supplies for black troops. After the war, she worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping people find jobs and build new lives. Her most famous speech was delivered in 1851 at a women’s rights convention in Ohio.
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes 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? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? . . . That little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? 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.
19. Harriet Jacobs: Harriet Jacobs was born enslaved in North Carolina in 1813. After hiding in an attic for seven years, she escaped to the north in
She published her memoir in 1861 using the pseudonym Linda Brent. In 1853, Jacobs wrote a Letter from a Fugitive Slave that was published in the New York Daily Tribune.
I was born a slave, reared in the Southern hot-bed until I was the mother of two children, sold at the early age of two and four years old. I have been hunted through all of the Northern States . . . My mother was dragged to jail, there remained twenty-five days, with Negro traders to come in as they liked to examine her, as she was offered for sale. My sister was told that she must yield, or never expect to see her mother again . . . That child gave herself up to her master’s bidding, to save one that was dearer to her than life itself . . . At fifteen, my sister held to her bosom an innocent offspring of her guilt and misery. In this way she dragged a miserable existence of two years, between the fires of her mistress’s jealousy and her master’s brutal passion. At seventeen, she gave birth to another helpless infant, heir to all the evils of slavery. Thus life and its sufferings was meted out to her until her twenty-first year. Sorrow and suffering has made its ravages upon her – she was less the object to be desired by the fiend who had crushed her to the earth; and as her children grew, they bore too strong a resemblance to him who desired to give them no other inheritance save Chains and Handcuffs . . . those two helpless children were the sons of one of your sainted Members in Congress; that agonized mother, his victim and slave.
20. James Pennington: James Pennington was born into slavery on the coast of Maryland and escaped in 1828. He challenged segregation and championed education for African Americans. He authored the first account of African Americans used in schools, A Text Book of the Origin and History of Colored People.
There is one sin that slavery committed against me, which I never can forgive. It robbed me of my education; the injury is irreparable; I feel the embarrassment more seriously now than I ever did before. It cost me two years’ hard labour, after I fled, to unshackle my mind; it was three years before I had purged my language of slavery’s idioms; it was four years before I had thrown off the crouching aspect of slavery; and now the evil that besets me is a great lack of that general information, the foundation of which is most effectually laid in that part of life which I served as a slave. When I consider how much now, more than ever, depends upon sound and thorough education among coloured men, I am grievously overwhelmed with a sense of my deficiency, and more especially as I can never hope now to make it up.
21. Elizabeth Jennings: In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings, a free woman of color, was thrown off a street car in New York City. The New York Tribune printed “Outrage Upon Colored Persons” where she told her story.
I held up my hand to the driver and he stopped the cars. We got on the platform, when the conductor told us to wait for the next car. I told him I could not wait, as I was in a hurry to go to church. He then told me that the other car had my people in it, that it was appropriated for that purpose . . . He insisted upon my getting off the car, but I did not get off . . . I told him not to lay his hands on me. I took hold of the window sash and held on. He pulled me until he broke my grasp and I took hold of his coat and held onto that. He ordered the driver to fasten his horses, which he did, and come and help him put me out of the car. They then both seized hold of me by the arms and pulled and dragged me flat down on the bottom of the platform, so that my feet hung one way and my head the other, nearly on the ground. I screamed murder with all my voice, and my companion screamed out “you’ll kill her. Don’t kill her.” . . . They got an officer on the corner of Walker and Bowery, whom the conductor told that his orders from the agent were to admit colored persons if the passengers did not object, but if they did, not to let them ride . . . Then the officer, without listening to anything I had to say, thrust me out, and then pushed me, and tauntingly told me to get redress [damages] if I could.
22. William Wells Brown: William Wells Brown was born on a plantation near Lexington, Kentucky in 1814 and escaped to Ohio in 1834. He moved to New York State in the 1840, and he began lecturing for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society and worked as a steam boatman, which enabled him to assist freedom-seekers on the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War he demanded that Blacks be allowed to serve in the Union Army.
Mr. President, I think that the present contest has shown clearly that the fidelity of the black people of this country to the cause of freedom is enough to put to shame every white man in the land who would think of driving us out of the country, provided freedom shall be proclaimed. I remember well, when Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation went forth, calling for the first 75,000 men, that among the first to respond to that call were the colored men . . . Although the colored men in many of the free States were disfranchised, abused, taxed without representation, their children turned out of the schools, nevertheless, they, went on, determined to try to discharge their duty to the country, and to save it from the tyrannical power of the slaveholders of the South . . . The black man welcomes your armies and your fleets, takes care of your sick, is ready to do anything, from cooking up to shouldering a musket; and yet these would-be patriots and professed lovers of the land talk about driving the Negro out!
23. Harriet Tubman: Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in Maryland as a young woman, was the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. She served in the Civil War as a scout, nurse, and guerilla fighter. On October 22, 1865, Harriet Tubman spoke before a massive audience at the Bridge Street AME Church in Brooklyn.
Last evening an immense congregation, fully half consisting of whites, was presented at the African M.E. Church in Bridge street, to listen to the story of the experiences of Mrs. Harriet Tubman, known as the South Carolina Scout and nurse, as related by herself . . . Mrs. Tubman is a colored lady, of 35 or 40 years of age; she appeared before those present with a wounded hand in a bandage, which would she stated was caused by maltreatment received at the hands of a conductor on the Camden and Amboy railroad, on her trip from Philadelphia to New York, a few days since. Her words were in the peculiar plantation dialect and at times were not intelligible to the white portion of her audience . . . She was born, she said, in the eastern portion of the State of Maryland, and wanted it to be distinctly understood that she was not educated, nor did she receive any “broughten up”. . . She knew that God had directed her to perform other works in this world, and so she escaped from bondage. This was nearly 14 years ago, since then she has assisted hundreds to do the same.
24. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: In May 1866, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a leading African American poet, lecturer and civil right activist, addressed the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York.
Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life had been spent in battling against those wrongs . . . We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members . . . This grand and glorious revolution which has commenced, will fail to reach its climax of success, until throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic, the nation shall be so color-blind, as to know no man by the color of his skin or the curl of his hair. It will then have no privileged class, trampling upon outraging the unprivileged classes, but will be then one great privileged nation, whose privilege will be to produce the loftiest manhood and womanhood that humanity can attain.
Jon Meacham captures the ‘big picture’ of America’s story in his book, The Soul of America (2018). It’s importance for teachers and students is significant because many of our institutions and principles are currently being questioned and attacked. The Soul of America captures the challenges Americans have experienced throughout our history, identifies the voices who have kept the American people faithful to democratic values and provides references to presidents whose leadership shaped America’s soul. This book is timely as we are living in dangerous times with divisive statements every day and mass shootings every week.
paragraphs prioritize the importance of presidential leadership in times of
uncertainty or crisis: “To do so requires
innumerable acts of citizenship and of private grace. It will require, as it has in the past, the
witness and the bravery of reformers who hold no office and who have no
traditional power but who yearn for a better, fairer way of life. And it will
also require, I believe, a president of the United States with a temperamental
disposition to speak to the country’s hopes rather than to its fears.” (11)
Our representative democracy has faced challenges from
events, extremists, political parties, and presidents during the past 220
years. The American soul and spirit have been tested with the Alien and
Sedition Acts, Nullification crisis, Know Nothing Party, racism, the Great
Depression, world wars, and the Attack on America. The American soul has been positively influenced
during challenging times by speeches, books, newspapers, radio, television,
films, and social media. Although we are
a diverse, and at times a divided population, we share a common DNA that is at
risk to genetic mutations by outside influences.
One of the significant contributions in this book is its
perspective on the American Dream during times when it was challenged by
racism, sexism, and economic depressions.
In each of the seven chapters there are applications for classroom
lessons and debates. Our students learn
about the role of government through conflicts, reforms, legislation and
presidential visions through the Square Deal, New Freedom, New Deal, Fair Deal,
and New Frontier. The first years of the 20th century were times of
prosperity and depression, war and peace, an incapacitated president and the
death of four presidents in office, and the expansion and restriction on who
can vote. These are applications for the first quartile of the 21st
In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan spoke to millions of Americans
in both rural and urban areas who wanted conservative values, restrictions on
immigration, and an exclusive society for some Americans. The Ku Klux Klan
addressed these issues, blamed socialism on immigrants, and found a comfortable
place in the Democratic Party of William Jennings Bryan. Hiram Wesley Evans,
the imperial wizard of the Klan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in
Madison Square Garden in 1924: “The Klan,
alone, supplies this leadership…. The blood which produces human leadership
must be protected from inferior blood…. You are the superior blood. You are more-you are leaders in the only
movement in the world, at present, which exists solely to establish a
civilization that will insure these things.
Klansmen and Klanswomen are verily ‘the salt of the earth,’ upon whom
depends the future of civilization.” (Hiram
Wesley Evans, imperial wizard spoke these words in 1924 in Madison Square
Garden at the Democratic National Convention)
understand the divisive words above in the context of the poetic words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled
masses yearning to breathe free” in the sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, teachers should consider having
their students participate in the following:
your students explain how and why the Klan evolved into a national organization
after World War I from a regional organization in the South after the Civil
your students cite examples of how the Klan used propaganda and the media to
influence Americans and increase their membership.
your students research the voices who spoke out against the Klan and for an
inclusive society for all people.
The Klan became masters of propaganda or fake news in the 20th
century with the popular commercial film, Birth
of a Nation in 1915. The influence
of films, radio, and speeches at rallies have a powerful impact on the soul of
Americans and their views on groups of people who become scapegoats as they
were blamed for things they had no control over. The Klan meddled in the
presidential elections of 1920 and 1924. Jon Meacham provides resources for
teachers and students with the example of the campaign to defame President
Warren G. Harding with fake news that “documented” his ancestors were black.
(129) At a time when Harding could have
unleashed a tirade over the radio or in the newspapers, he met the allegations
with dignified public silence. There
were also reports of his initiation as a member of the Klan in the dining room
of the White House and that half of the elected representatives in Congress
were Klan members! (130) These were
William R. Pattangall, a politician from Maine running for
governor, was one voice who explicitly denounced the Klan at the Democratic
National Convention in New York City in 1924. “I say to you, that there is need to be sent over the whole wide United
States a message…that our party hates bigotry, hates intolerance; opposes
bigotry and opposes intolerance; and because it hates them and hates hypocrisy
and opposes them, it therefore calls bigoty and intolerance and hypocrisy by
their right names when it speaks of them.” In times when fear overcomes our
American spirit, other voices need to speak for the rights and freedom of all
citizens. There are many examples for teachers in The Soul of America of voices that speak of inclusion, freedom of
equality and the rule of law in our Constitution. Our students need to hear these voices!
Margaret Chase Smith, also from Maine, spoke on the Senate floor against the
wave of fear that Senator Joseph McCarthy promoted. “I
think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and
defend the Constitution. I think that it
is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not
only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by
Those of us who shout the loudest
about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently
those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of
The right to criticize;
The right to uphold unpopular
The right to protest;
The right to independent thought.
The Soul of America is filled with powerful quotations
that teachers can select and organize into evidence packages for students to
read, discuss, and form a conclusion. The Soul of America includes selected
quotes from speeches and literature as far back as 1789. These short quotes can
be researched in the complete context of documents readily available online in
presidential libraries, the Miller Center, The Library of Congress, and other
resources. Here are several examples of Evidence
Packages that will guide students in understanding the big picture of the
challenges Americans experienced in the past 100 years. The examples below
provide a context for the power of words and rhetoric for deeper inquiry and
student engagement into history.
Evidence Package on The Great Depression:
“In the summer of 1932, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York had told an adviser that the two most dangerous men in America were Huey Long of Louisiana and Douglas MacArthur, the army chief of staff. Long, the powerful Louisiana “kingfish,” could conceivably orchestrate a coup from the populist left, and MacArthur might manage the same feat from the right.” (138, A few weeks before his inauguration, there was an assassination attempt on FDR and the mayor of Chicago in Miami, Florida by Zangara, an anarchist.
“Where is the middle class today?” “Where is the corner groceryman, about whom President Roosevelt speaks? He is gone or going. Where is the corner druggist? He is gone or going. Where is the banker of moderate means? He is vanishing…. The middle class today cannot pay the debts they owe and come out alive.” (143, Huey Long)
“We have perfected techniques in propaganda and press and radio control which should make the United States the easiest country in the world to indoctrinate with any set of ideas, and to control for any physically possible ends.”“Diversity – political, racial, religious, ethnic – was the enemy.’Undoubtedly the easiest way to unite and animate large numbers in political association for action is to exploit the dynamic forces of hatred and fear.” (144, Lawrence Dennis, author from Georgia)
“The GOP, Truman said, was more interested in partisan advantage than in national security. For political background, the Republicans have been trying vainly to find an issue on which to make a bid for the control of Congress for next year… They tried statism. They tried ‘welfare state.’ They tried ‘socialism.’ And there are a certain number of members of the Republican party who are trying to dig up that old malodorous dead horse called ‘isolationism.’ And in order to do that, they are perfectly willing to sabotage the bipartisan foreign policy of the United States.” (188-89, Truman speech on March 30, 1950 in Key West, FL)
Evidence Package on Civil Rights Movement:
“If on Judgment Day I were summoned by St. Peter to give testimony to the
used-to-be sheriff’s act of kindness, I would be unable to say anything in his
behalf. His confidence that my uncle and
every other Black man who heard of the Klan’s coming ride would scurry under
their houses to hide in chicken droppings was to humiliating to hear.” (215, Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. A reference to a warning to her uncle
about a visit from the Klan)
“You know, we just can’t keep colored folk down like we been doin’ around
here for years and years,” Wallace told a Sunday School teacher at his church.
“We got to quit. We got to start
treatin’ ‘em right. They just like everybody else.”
(218, Words of Gov. George Wallace, AL spoken shortly after World War 2,
about 15 years before he was elected governor.)
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I
draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and
I say…segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.” (219, Gov. George Wallace, AL)
Yet Wallace failed. The Kennedy
Justice Department enforced the court order and the university was
integrated. On the evening of the day
federal officials compelled Wallace to stand aside, President Kennedy spoke to
“Today, we are
committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who
wish to be free. This is not a sectional issue.
Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in
every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent
that threatens the public safety. Nor is
this a partisan issue…. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as
clear as the American Constitution.” (220, President Kennedy)
“Well, you know, John, the other day a sad thing happened. Helen Williams and her husband, Gene, who are
African Americans and have been working for me for many years, drove my
official car from Washington down to Texas, the Cadillac limousine of the
vice-president of the United States.
They drove through your state, and when they got hungry they stopped at
grocery stores on the edge of town in colored areas and bought Vienna sausage
and beans and ate them with a plastic spoon.
And when they had to go to the bathroom, they would stop, pull off on a
side road, and Helen Williams, an employee of the vice-president of the United
States, would squat on the road to pee.
And you know, John, that’s just bad.
That’s wrong. And there ought to
be something to change that. And it seems to me that if the people in
Mississippi don’t change it voluntarily, that it’s just going to be necessary
to change it by law.”
(221, President Johnson statement to Senator John Stennis, Mississippi)
“I have a dream that one day on the
red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners
will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one
day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of
injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an
oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my
four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be
judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (225, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,
“Yes, yes, Hubert, I want all those other things – buses, restaurants,
all of that – but the right to vote with no ifs, ands, or buts, that’s the
key.” (231, Civil
Rights Act of 1964)
“The march of 1965 injected something
very special into the soul and the heart and the veins of America. It said, in effect, that we must humanize our
social and political and economic structure.
When people saw what happened on that bridge, there was a sense of
revulsion all over America.
redemption: In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house-not
just the house of black and white, but the house of the South, the house of
America.” (238, Rep.
John Lewis, GA, Bloody Sunday. March 7, 1965)
“The issue of equal rights for American negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.
For with a country as
with a person, ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and
lose his own soul?’”
(241, Speech by President Lyndon Johnson to the nation, March 15, 1965)
The Soul of America is an important resource for history
teachers, a powerful story for your students, and opened my mind to a deeper
understanding of why the politics of today need the voices of teachers and
professors to advocate for the liberties and rights we, both citizens and
immigrants within the United States,
have by law.
A southern city has now become
synonymous with the ongoing scourge of racism in the United States. A year
ago, white supremacists rallied to “Unite the Right” in
Charlottesville, protesting the removal of a Confederate statute. In the days
that followed, two of them, Christopher C. Cantwell and James A. Fields Jr.,
became quite prominent. The HBO show “Vice News Tonight” profiled Cantwell
in an episode and showed him spouting racist and anti-Semitic slurs and
violent fantasies. Fields gained notoriety after he plowed a car into a
group of unarmed counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Today this tragedy defines the
nature of modern racism primarily as Southern, embodied in tiki torches,
Confederate flags and violent outbursts. As historians of race
in America, we believe that such a one-sided view misses how entrenched,
widespread and multi-various racism is and has been across the country.
born in the North
Racism has deep historic roots in
the North, making the chaos and violence of Charlottesville part of a national
historic phenomenon. Cantwell was born and raised in Stony Brook, Long
Island, and was living in New Hampshire at the time of the march. Fields was
born in Boone County, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from Cincinnati, Ohio,
and was living in Ohio when he plowed through a crowd.
Jim Crow, the system of laws that
advanced segregation and black disenfranchisement, began in the North, not the
South, as most Americans believe. Long before the Civil War, northern states
like New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had legal
codes that promoted black people’s racial segregation and political
If racism is only pictured
in spitting and screaming, in torches and vigilante justice and an
allegiance to the Confederacy, many Americans can rest easy, believing they
share little responsibility in its perpetuation. But the truth is,
Americans all over the country do bear responsibility for racial segregation
and inequality. Studying the long history of the Jim Crow North makes
clear to us that there was nothing regional about white supremacy and its
upholders. There is a larger landscape of segregation and struggle in the
“liberal” North that brings into sharp relief the national character of
racism shaped region
Throughout the 19th century, black
and white abolitionists and free black activists challenged the North’s
Jim Crow practices and waged war against slavery in the South and the
North. At the same time, Northerners wove Jim Crow racism into the fabric of
their social, political and economic lives in ways that shaped the history
of the region and the entire nation.
There was broad-based support,
North and South, for white supremacy. Abraham Lincoln, who campaigned to stop
slavery from spreading outside of the South, barely carried New York State in
the elections of 1860 and 1864, for example, but he lost both by a landslide in
New York City. Lincoln’s victory in 1864 came with only 50.5 percent of
the state’s popular vote. What’s more, in 1860, New York State voters
overwhelmingly supported – 63.6 percent – a referendum to keep universal
suffrage rights only for white men.
New York banks loaned Southerners
tens of millions of dollars, and New York shipowners provided southern cotton
producers with the means to get their products to market. In other
words, New York City was sustained by a slave economy. And working-class
New Yorkers believed that the abolition of slavery would flood the city
with cheap black labor, putting newly arrived immigrants out of work.
land that wasn’t’
Malignant racism appeared
throughout Northern political, economic, and social life during the 18th and
19th centuries. But the cancerous history of the Jim Crow North
metastasized during the mid-20th century. Six million black people moved
north and west between 1910 and 1970, seeking jobs, desiring education for
their children and fleeing racial terrorism.
The rejuvenation of the Ku Klux
Klan in the early 20th century, promoting pseudo-scientific racism known
as “eugenics,” immigration restriction and racial segregation, found supple
support in pockets of the North,
from California to Michigan to Queens, New York –
not only in the states of the old Confederacy.
The KKK was a visible and overt
example of widespread Northern racism that remained covert and insidious. Over
the course of the 20th century, Northern laws, policies and policing
strategies cemented Jim Crow. In Northern housing, the New Deal-era government
Home Owners Loan Corporation maintained and created racially
segregated neighborhoods. The research of scholars Robert K. Nelson,
LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano and Nathan Connolly, through their valuable
website, Mapping Inequality (http://dsl.richmond.edu/mappinginequality.html),
makes this history visible and undeniable. Zoning policies in the
North preserved racial segregation in schools. Discrimination in jobs
contributed to economic underdevelopment of businesses and
neighborhoods, as well as destabilization of families. Crime statistics
became a modern weapon for justifying the criminalization of Northern
urban black populations and aggressive forms of policing.
A close examination of the history
of the Jim Crow North – what Rosa Parks referred to as the “Northern
promised land that wasn’t”—demonstrates how racial discrimination and
segregation operated as a system. Judges, police officers, school board
officials and many others created and maintained the scaffolding for a
Northern Jim Crow system that hid in plain sight.
New Deal policies, combined with
white Americans’ growing apprehension toward the migrants moving from the South
to the North, created a systematized raw deal for the country’s black people.
Segregation worsened after the New Deal of the 1930s in multiple ways. For
example, Federal Housing Administration policies rated neighborhoods
for residential and school racial homogeneity. Aid to Dependent Children carved
a requirement for “suitable homes” in discriminatory ways. Policymakers and
intellectuals blamed black “cultural pathology” for social disparities.
Faced with these new realities,
black people relentlessly and repeatedly challenged Northern racism, building
movements from Boston to Milwaukee to Los Angeles. They were often met with the
argument that this wasn’t the South. They found it difficult to focus
national attention on northern injustice. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointedly
observed in 1965, “As the nation, negro and white, trembled with outrage at
police brutality in the South, police misconduct in the North was rationalized,
tolerated and usually denied.”
Many Northerners, even ones who
pushed for change in the South, were silent and often resistant to change at
home. One of the grandest achievements of the modern civil rights movement –
the 1964 Civil Rights Act – contained a key loophole to prevent school
desegregation from coming to northern communities. In a New York Times poll in 1964, a majority
of New Yorkers thought the civil rights movement had gone too far.
Jim Crow practices unfolded
despite supposed “colorblindness” among those who considered themselves
liberal. And it evolved not just through Southern conservatism but New Deal and
Great Society liberalism as well. Understanding racism in America in 2018 means
not only examining the long history of racist practices and ideologies in the
South but also the long history of racism in the Jim Crow North.
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