The OAH Magazine of History

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Antebellum Slavery

from the editor

Antebellum Slavery, by Carl R. Weinberg

On March 26, 2009, just as the recent annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) opened in Seattle, we received some sobering news: pioneering historian John Hope Franklin had died. He was 94 years old. To a generation of young black historians coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, inspired by his brilliant example, Franklin was known simply as “the prince.” To a wider group of colleagues who worked with Franklin at Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago, where he chaired history departments, and later at Duke, and who associated with him at scholarly gatherings of all kinds, Franklin was fondly known as “John Hope.” To a broad American public, Franklin was the man appointed by President Clinton to chair the advisory board for his Initiative on Race in 1997 (and to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995). By that point in his career, Franklin was not only the author of landmark studies, such as From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans (which has now sold more than three million copies in eight editions); he also had served as president of the Southern Historical Association, the American Historical Association and the OAH. Looking back on his rise to celebrity status, Franklin recalled that around the time he received the Medal of Freedom, he was standing in a hotel lobby, whereupon a man handed Franklin a set of car keys and told him to retrieve his car. With his legendary good humor and tact, Franklin replied that he was a guest at the hotel, as he assumed the man was, and that he had no idea of the whereabouts of his car. “And in any case,” he added, “I’[m] retired.” To that one man in the hotel lobby, Franklin was neither prince, nor “John Hope,” nor celebrity historian, he was simply an old black man assumed to be working as a valet. Read more >


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Teaching Slavery in Today’s Classroom,
by Susan Eva O’Donovan
Read online >


Writing Slavery’s History,
by Dylan Penningroth
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Slavery and National Expansion in the United States,
by Adam Rothman
Read online >

The Everyday Life of Enslaved People in the Antebellum South,
by Calvin Schermerhorn
Read online >

Fighting Slavery on Slaveholders’ Terrain,
by Thavolia Glymph
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teaching resources

Teaching Antebellum Slavery from a New England Perspective,
by Marie Parys
Read online >

Reconstructing Resistance through Fugitive Slave Ads,
by Gretchen Catron
Read online >

web resources

Antebellum Slavery Online,
by Callinda Taylor
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teaching with documents

Slavery, Interracial Marriage, and the Election of 1836,
by Tanisha C. Ford and Carl R. Weinberg
Read online >

history today

The Discomfort Zone: Reenacting Slavery at Conner Prairie,
by Carl R. Weinberg
Read online (available to general public) >

on the cover

Eastman Johnson (1824—1906), A Ride for Liberty--The Fugitive Slaves, c. 1862. Oil on paper board, 22 x 26 1/4 inches.

An American figure painter from Maine, Eastman Johnson was a strong supporter of the Union in the Civil War. Accompanying Union troops near Manassas, Virginia in March 1862, Johnson reported seeing an enslaved African American family of four (the woman holds an infant) fleeing for the safety of Union lines in the early morning light. For its time, this painting offered a rare and bold example of African Americans independently acting to liberate themselves from slavery. Perhaps because of its radicalism, Eastman never exhibited the painting. It is held by the Brooklyn Museum of Art.