The first Africans at Jamestown were purchased as indentured servants from the Dutch. Over the course of two centuries, however, most Africans in the Americas were bought and sold as a source of slave labor, were denied the most basic human rights and were often subject to abusive treatment.
Antislavery sentiments in America date
back to the 1600s. However, the abolition movement didn't come to the
forefront until the early 1800s, when the first abolitionist periodicals
were published. The movement gained momentum over the next few decades,
leading to Lincoln's 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all
slaves in rebel states.
Not all blacks were enslaved during
the period prior to the Civil War. However, these free blacks were not
treated as equal citizens. Free blacks, found primarily in Northern states,
had to carry papers proving they were not slaves. Otherwise, they faced
capture and transport to the South where they could be sold into slavery.
Although they often received lower pay,
performed menial duties and faced further discrimination, black soldiers
were allowed to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War. They fought
in segregated units, under the command of white officers.
From 1865 to 1877, the Constitution
was amended three times to provide equal rights to black Americans.
was abolished, and citizenship and voting rights were guaranteed. Blacks
gained political power as they were elected to office at all levels of
Following the formal period of Reconstruction,
laws were passed, severely limiting the freedoms given to blacks. Poll
taxes and literacy tests made voting difficult, while Jim Crow laws,
upheld by the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, created segregated public
facilities. Schools such as Booker T. Washington's
Tuskegee Institute provided quality education for blacks.
Even though black soldiers
still faced discrimination at home, they fought for
they fought in segregated units.
During World War I, many blacks
fled the South seeking new jobs in factories in Northern cities. This
great migration continued through the early 1940s.
This time period also brought an increased popularity in music and the
arts, centered in the Harlem Renaissance.
The 332nd Fighter Group, the most successful
airmen of World War II, flew more than 200 escort missions, not once
losing an aircraft. This group, part of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen,
skills in the air, but were treated as second-class citizens on the ground.
They were not allowed access to the same facilities
as white airmen and had little chance for promotion upon their return.
In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision,
segregated schools were declared unconstitutional. This landmark decision
sparked the modern Civil Rights movement. Led by Martin Luther King
Jr., blacks engaged in a series of nonviolent protests throughout the
South to bring about the end of segregation and racial domination.
The American Memory collections contain
hundreds of items documenting
African-American history. The "For Teachers" links will help
extend this activity for your students. Included are links to
specific American Memory collections or exhibits as well as links to
several excellent resources outside of The Library of Congress Web