Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

A Name You Should Know: Robert Smalls

Frederick Douglass. Sojourner Truth. Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks. These names are in the pantheon of African American heroes. Each year during Black History Month their names are at the fore of many celebrations. Robert Smalls. His name is not well-known, or even known at all, but his contribution to black history is extraordinary and fascinating.

Robert Smalls Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Robert Smalls went from slave to naval captain to U.S. congressman by age 36. The story to his fame began in Charleston, South Carolina 13 months after the attack on Fort Sumter. Smalls was entrusted with piloting the CSS Planter, a Confederate military transport ship. He gained the confidence of the ship’s owners, and in doing so he began to plan an escape to the Union blockade about seven miles in the distance. On the early morning of May 13, 1862, Smalls stole the Planter after its three officers went ashore for the night leaving Smalls and his slave crew alone. Donning the captain’s straw hat and employing the signals he had memorized, Smalls steered the Planter to another wharf where his family and the families of the other crew were waiting. Sailing past five fortified Confederate posts, Smalls’ plan succeeded as the Planter made it to the Union without incident. At just 23 years old, Robert Smalls delivered 16 men and women to freedom and gave critical Confederate defense information to the Union. A reporter hailed it “one of the most daring and heroic adventures” of the Civil War.

Robert Smalls’ story did not end there. Hailed a hero, he was able to lobby the federal government for the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union war effort and reportedly recruited almost 5,000 men himself. He lead the Planter in 17 battles and eventually became her captain. He was the highest-ranking African American officer in the Union Navy. After the war, he became a leader during Reconstruction in the Republican Party. He was elected to the South Carolina legislature and later to the U.S. House of Representatives five times. One of his key initiatives was ensuring free education for all children.

Whether known for their activism or heroism, here are a few other names you should know. Honor them by sharing their stories with others not only during Black History Month but throughout the year.

Bessie Coleman

Hiram Revels

Dorothy Height

Nat Love

Daisy Bates

Guion Bluford

ProQuest’s eLibrary is an excellent resource for students wanting to learn more about African American history and achievement. The new eLibrary platform makes searching easy with its visually appealing Common Assignments and Subject trees. Also, make sure to look at the Editor’s Picks which are focused on Research Topics related to Black History Month. This new feature will change frequently so check back to see what’s new.

Don’t have eLibrary? Request a free trial.

Alex Haley’s “Roots”: The 40th Anniversary

In January 1977, a miniseries aired on ABC, and it would essentially change the face of television.

“Roots,” based on Alex Haley’s novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” won nine Emmy Awards, as well as a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Research Topic

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

It tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an African adolescent who was brought to Colonial America and forced into slavery.

The story was based on what Haley claims to have discovered after conducting research to trace his ancestry.

Alex Haley Research Topic

Alex Haley Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

eLibrary offers a multitude of additional information related to the subject matter of “Roots,” including these Related Topics:

Atlantic Slave Trade

ProQuest Research Topic Guide: African-American History

ProQuest Research Topic Guide: Slavery in the U.S.


Slavery in the U.S.

Lincoln, Slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation

“I never in my life felt more certain that I am doing right than I do in signing this paper…If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”–President Abraham Lincoln, on signing the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet Painted by F.B. Carpenter ; engraved by A.H. Ritchie via Library of congress [public domain]

The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet
Painted by F.B. Carpenter; Engraved by A.H. Ritchie via Library of Congress [public domain]

The Republican Party’s platform in the 1860 election specifically pledged not to extend slavery any further westward into the territories. When its candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th president of the United States, it led to the secession of eleven slave-holding Southern states and the beginning of the Civil War. In a letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, dated August 22, 1862, he wrote: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.” Despite this letter, just one month later, on September 22, Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s executive order basically stated that if the rebels did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states would be freed. It applied to some 3 million of the 4 million slaves in the United States at the time, and allowed them to join the Union Army.

While Abraham Lincoln is often viewed as the Great Emancipator, his ultimate political aim was to restore and preserve the Union. But as a politician, he was also acutely aware of public opinion. Lincoln’s stated views on slavery, and how they evolved over time to include the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, are reviewed below

Lincoln Wasn’t an Abolitionist.

In a speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, on Sept. 13, 1858, Lincoln said, “Slavery is an unqualified evil to the negro, to the white man, to the soil, and to the State.” While Lincoln did believe that slavery was morally wrong, it was sanctioned by the “the supreme law of the land,” the U.S. Constitution, which he had sworn to “preserve, protect and defend” as President. In his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1861, he stated “I have no purpose directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so.”

Lincoln Didn’t Believe Blacks Should Have the Same Rights As Whites.

Though Lincoln argued that the founding fathers’ phrase “All men are created equal” applied to blacks and whites alike, this did not mean he thought they should have the same social and political rights. His views became clear during an 1858 series of debates with Stephen Douglas, his opponent in the Illinois race for U.S. Senate. In their fourth debate held in Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, after Douglas had accused him of supporting “negro equality,” Lincoln made his position clear. “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.”

Lincoln Thought Colonization Was the Best Way to Confront Slavery.

For much of his career, Lincoln believed that that if a majority of the African-American population would leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America, it could resolve the issue of slavery. Lincoln first publicly advocated for colonization in 1852 and in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, Lincoln said, “My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” As president in early 1863, Lincoln also discussed with Register of the Treasury Lucius E. Chittenden his plan to “remove the whole colored race of the slave states into Texas.”

Emancipation Was a Military Strategy.

Band of 107th U.S. Colored Infantry, Arlington, VA, November 1865. Photo by William M. Smith via Library of Congress [public domain]

Band of 107th U.S. Colored Infantry, Arlington, VA, November 1865.
Photo by William M. Smith via Library of Congress [public domain]

Lincoln didn’t see the Civil War as a struggle to end slavery, but as an effort to preserve the Union. But as the war dragged on into its second year in 1862, thousands of slaves had fled Southern plantations to Union lines. Since slaves made up a majority of the South’s labor force, Lincoln viewed emancipation as a way to weaken the Confederacy, while at the same time providing the Union with a new source of manpower to crush the rebellion. By the end of the war, over 200,000 African-Americans would serve in the Union Army and Navy. He issued the preliminary proclamation to his Cabinet on September 22, and it was published the following day. On September 24, Lincoln addressed a cheering crowd from a White House balcony: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake….It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it.”

The Emancipation Proclamation Didn’t Actually Free the Slaves.

Since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a military measure, it didn’t apply to border slave states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, all of which had remained loyal to the Union. In practice, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t immediately free a single slave, since the only places it applied were those where the federal government had no control–the Southern states that had seceded and were currently fighting against the Union. The proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by Congress, so Lincoln then pushed for an antislavery amendment to the U.S. Constitution in order to make slavery illegal. Nearly eight months after Lincoln’s assassination, on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery throughout America, and fulfilling Lincoln’s original proclamation that “all persons held as slaves…are, and henceforward shall be free.”

To learn more about Lincoln’s views on slavery, the social and political climate that led to his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, its impact on the Civil War and the eventual passage of a Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery, check out these Research Topic pages available on ProQuest’s eLibrary:

13th Amendment

Abraham Lincoln

Civil War

Emancipation Proclamation


This Day in History: Jefferson Davis Inaugurated As Confederate President

This day in history marks the inauguration of the first and only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. After being named President of the newly-formed Confederate States of America, he delivered his inaugural address from the portico of the Alabama state capitol building in Montgomery on February 18, 1861. Most people know that Davis was the Confederate president. But did you know he was also a West Point graduate, a war hero, the son-in-law of a future U.S President, a U.S. Congressman, a Cabinet member and a U.S. Senator? While Davis did support slavery, he advocated for states’ rights and argued against secession.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi, Thirty-fifth Congress, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right (public domain) via Library of Congress

Davis graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828. He then served as an infantry Lieutenant at various posts in Missouri, Illinois, and in the Iowa and Wisconsin territories. He also took part in the Black Hawk War of 1832, along with a Captain of the Illinois volunteers named Abraham Lincoln. While serving under Colonel Zachary Taylor (later elected the 12th President of the United States), he met and fell in love with Taylor’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor. Taylor disapproved of the relationship, and Davis resigned his military commission in 1835 in order to marry her against her father’s wishes. She died only three months later, after contracting malaria in Louisiana.

He was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-ninth Congress and served from March 4, 1845, until June 1846, when he resigned to command the First Regiment of Mississippi Riflemen in the Mexican-American War. He distinguished himself by contributing to victories in the Battles of Monterrey (1846) and Buena Vista (1847), where he was wounded. Returning to Mississippi as a war hero, Davis was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1847-1851 and again from 1857-1861. During his time there, he was a key supporter of the creation of the Smithsonian Institution, and a member of its Board of Regents.

President Franklin Pierce selected Davis as his Secretary of War in 1853. During his tenure in office, he helped design the National Capitol and the Statue of Freedom atop its dome. At the close of Pierce’s term in 1857, Davis reentered the Senate and became a prominent spokesman for the South.  On June 27, 1850, while the Senate was debating the Compromise Bill, Davis had stated, “God forbid that the day should ever come when to be true to my constituents is to be hostile to the Union.” That day came on January 21, 1861, when he joined four of his colleagues who resigned their seats in the U.S. Senate after their states had seceded from the Union. A month later, he was chosen by acclamation to be the Confederate president.

After the Civil War ended, Davis was captured by Union forces near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865. Charged with treason but never tried, he was detained in a military prison for two years at Fort Monroe, Virginia. President Andrew Johnson issued a pardon on Christmas Day, 1868 to all persons who participated in the “rebellion.” Davis refused to take the oath of allegiance to regain his American citizenship, which was restored only posthumously by the U.S. Congress and President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Davis died in New Orleans on December 6, 1889. Over 70,000 people paid their respects at New Orleans City Hall, and he was buried there on December 11. His body was moved to the former Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia in 1893.

To learn more about the life and legacy of this often misunderstood American statesman, visit these sites available on SIRS WebSelect:

You can find even more information in these Research Topic pages available on ProQuest’s eLibrary:

All the Things That Are Difficult to Discuss

This was supposed to be a blog post on human trafficking and slavery. In honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Preventing Month, I put together the January Spotlight of the Month on this topic, using materials available to students and teachers on SIRS Knowledge Source. Although I had done the research and felt I had a handle on this emotional and challenging content, I still was feeling ill-prepared to write a blog post about it.

My apprehension got me to thinking…how would I one day talk with my 10-year-old daughter about this complicated issue? We have pretty intense discussions about human history and difficult events, but have we discussed human trafficking and slavery?


Then I remembered…this horrific topic was broached very delicately in her classroom last year. And it’s come up again this year in her Model UN discussions at school. Not in great detail, of course, but enough so that she is aware that human slavery is a modern-day reality, not just one of the tragic truths of U.S. history.

She learned about this issue in school, from a seasoned professional, with proper context and adult support.

So this blog post is a heartfelt THANK YOU to all teachers for navigating countless emotional and demanding discussions in the classroom about events and issues that touch all of our lives.

My daughter has come home from school knowledgeable and talking about the Holocaust, slavery, terrorism, poverty, hunger, war, lack of education in many parts of the world and contemporary women’s rights issues. She has been a part of classroom discussions on divorce, bullying, and death. I have been fortunate to be in her classroom for a few of these conversations. I’ve admired the aptitude with which her teachers directed the dialogue, and have observed the benefits of having a peer community surrounding you when developing an understanding of new and challenging concepts and ideas.

My daughter and I have talked about these issues, too–sometimes before they are discussed in the classroom, sometimes after. Sometimes both. And I am always thankful for my ability to help my daughter understand and integrate these complexities of life.

Today, I am so grateful for the teachers who have done the same.

150 Years Ago: The 13th Amendment Abolishes Slavery

13th Amendment to the Constitution National Archives of the United States [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by the National Archives of the United States [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

With these words, the Congress of the United States formally abolished slavery — the Senate on April 8, 1864 and the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865.  President Abraham Lincoln’s approval of the joint congressional resolution paved the way for the proposed constitutional amendment to go to the states for ratification.  In swift manner, with Georgia’s passage on December 6, three-fourths of the states (27 of 36) had ratified what would become the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Once and for all, slavery was dead.

Almost three years prior on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation.  Despite outlawing slavery in the rebellious states, it would take political maneuvering by the Lincoln administration to see the full effects of the president’s order recognized.  Interestingly, the 13th Amendment would not see full ratification until 148 years later in 2013 when Mississippi became the last of the 36 states to certify the abolition of slavery.

Exploring the Causes of the Civil War

On the eve of the 151st anniversary of the destruction of Atlanta and the commencement of Sherman’s March to the Sea, considered one of most decisive and brutal campaigns to go through the Civil War South, it’s helpful to reflect on how and why our ancestors could inflict and endure such scorched earth brutality. By no means was the South the lone victim of brutality, but Sherman’s March, more commonly known at the time as the Savannah Campaign, was especially brutal. However harsh this campaign was, it also spurred the Union forces to victory and hastened the end of the war.

Accordingly then, it is valuable to step back and look at some of the issues for the cause of secession and the Civil War, and what may be deemed (depending on your loyalties) the central thread that bound most all of the other reasons: Slavery. Exploring eLibrary’s resources is a great place to start.

Although there are myriad of subordinate reasons for the war many consider important, in your research it’s well worth exploring what many scholars consider the four major reasons the South seceded from the Union: slavery, sectionalism, protectionism, and states’ rights. Some may add the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 as the chief contributing factor, but of all these issues, debate today usually centers around slavery and states rights. And more often than not, when any of these causes are debated, the issue of slavery is interwoven through them all.

Since the end of the Civil War, for many southerners states rights, not slavery, was the foremost reason for the war. Even though states’ rights can be traced back to the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, it had never been much of an issue until the western territories began to open up for migration in the mid 1820s and 1830s. It was then that the issue of extending slavery to the other territories west of the Mississippi came to a boil between the north, who had by that time abolished slavery, and the south, who had become dependent on slavery as its economic backbone and for its agrarian lifestyle.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 attempted to solve the problem of the new territories by establishing land west of the Mississippi and below the parallel  of 36°30′, as slave territory and — except for Missouri — those west of the Mississippi and above 36°30′, as free territory. However, this law would not last, and in 1854 it was repealed and replaced with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, championed by Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic Senator from Illinois. Under the agreement, settlers in the new territory would decide on whether or not to permit slavery under Douglas’ principle of popular sovereignty. During a course of two months in 1858, as they vied for the senatorial seat of Illinois, Douglas and Abraham Lincoln debated the merits of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (sectionalism), with Lincoln arguing against slavery and the other elements of the act, and Douglas arguing for popular sovereignty. Douglas went on to win the seat, but when Douglas was defeated by Lincoln for the presidency in 1860, it was then that South Carolina and Mississippi immediately issued their resolutions of succession from the Union, where it spelled out its central reason for succession: the federal government’s continued hostility toward the institution of slavery. After months of tension, on April 12, 1861, the first shots of the costly and bloody war began at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

eLibrary has a vast repository of resources on the Civil War and its causes, and you can explore more about slavery and states’ right, along other issues such as sectionalism and protectionism. An excellent place to start your research is with eLibrary’s ProQuest Research Topic Guide: American Civil War. Here you will find many, many Research Topics about the war, such as important Union and Confederate political and military figures, battles and campaigns (such as Sherman’s March to the Sea), and other general topics about the war.

There is also a Topic Guide for Slavery in the United States, which includes Research Topics on Antislavery efforts.

Here are more resources for your research:

ProQuest Research Topic Guides

African-American History
American Civil War
American Revolution
Slavery in the U.S.

Other ProQuest Research Topics

10th Amendment (States Rights)
Abraham Lincoln

Bleeding Kansas
Confederate States of America
Emancipation Proclamation
Fort Sumter
Frederick Douglass
Jefferson Davis
Kansas-Nebraska Act
Missouri Compromise
Stephen A. Douglas

Browse Topics

Civil War Era
History of Slavery
Prelude to Civil War
Secession and States Rights

This Day in History: U.S. Supreme Court Decides Dred Scott Case

Dred Scott

Dred Scott, a Virginia slave, was the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Scott v. Sandford. Image credit: Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis [Public Domain]

On this day in history in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision on the Dred Scott case, the outcome of which helped set the chain of events leading to the Civil War. Dred Scott was a slave who had been taken by his owner from Missouri (a slave state) to Illinois (a free state) and also to Wisconsin Territory (where slavery was banned).  Scott brought suit against his master, claiming that he was a free man because of his residence on free soil. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that Scott was still a slave and that anyone descended from black Africans could not become a U.S. citizen. The Court also struck down the Missouri Compromise, a federal law, as unconstitutional by negating the doctrine of popular sovereignty when it ruled that Congress had no power to exclude slavery from any part of U.S. territories. View the primary source DRED SCOTT v. SANDFORD in ProQuest SIRS.

To learn more about the Dred Scott case and other stepping stones in American civil rights history, direct your students to ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher, where they can find a range of editorially-selected resources. A Civil Rights Timeline highlights the expanding scope of civil rights in the United States, from colonial times to the present. Students can delve deeper by examining Leading Issues in civil rights, including affirmative action, gay rights, and privacy rights for teenagers.

Is there a civil rights issue you’d like to see us cover in ProQuest SIRS? If so, send us your suggestions in the comment box below.



Juneteenth.  It sounds like a made-up word.  However, Juneteenth is indeed real.  It is the recognition of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.  On this date, Union troops landed at Galveston and brought news of the emancipation which had been suppressed for 2 ½ years.  The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln had become official on January 1, 1863, but it had little impact in Texas because there were not enough Union troops to enforce it.  That was until June 19, 1865.

US NEWS JUNETEENTH 4 PHToday 42 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or a day of observance.  All former Confederate and slave holding states observe Juneteenth in some fashion.  It is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.  Festivities include picnics and prayer services with a focus on African American achievement.

As the United States celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, let us not forget those who endured 2 ½ more years for their day of freedom to come.  Also, let us not forget those who labored for the passage of a law abolishing slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which became official December 6, 1865.