Published Date

May 21, 2016

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom, Video


African American, Cultural, Current Events in Historical Context, Public History, Slavery

AHA Topics

K–12 Education, Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


United States

This event was part of the May 2016 conference The Future of the African American Past, co-hosted by the American Historical Association and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In “Slavery and Freedom,” panelists discuss historiographical trends in the study of slavery and post-emancipation society, illuminating how the dominant “freedom narrative” has been rethought and rewritten by various generations of scholars. Recent debates have centered on the tensions between emancipation as a turning point in American history and the limits of its aftermath.



Speakers and Contents

  • 00:12 – Introduction by Lonnie Bunch (NMAAHC) and Jim Grossman (AHA).
  • 04:32 – Chair Eric Foner (Columbia Univ.) asks the panelists to consider whether the “slavery and freedom” paradigm of teaching the history of emancipation, central to John Hope Franklin’s landmark 1947 textbook From Slavery to Freedom, still stands as a useful model in the 21st century.
  • 14:33 – Walter Johnson (Harvard Univ.) addresses the ethical concerns of suggesting that slavery “dehumanized” enslaved people.
  • 31:55 – Eric Foner reads Brenda E. Stevenson’s (Univ. of California, Los Angeles) paper on how former slaves harnessed family rituals, such as marriage ceremonies, to reinforce their new legal status as free people.
  • 42:43 – Thavolia Glymph (Duke Univ.) disputes the notion that emancipation had a limited impact on freedom, citing examples of enslaved people that participated in the Union war effort who recognized that the road to full equality would be a much longer struggle.
  • 58:55 – Annette Gordon-Reed (Harvard Univ.) discusses recent controversies surrounding the removals of Confederate memorials from public spaces, and whether these acts constitute an erasure of the past.


  • The Federal Writers’ Project Slave Narratives
  • “Abraham Lincoln to Hon. Charles D. Robinson, August 17, 1864,” Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 7, p. 501
  • “William T. Sherman to Thomas Ewing, Memphis, Aug. 10, 1862,” in Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860–1865, ed. Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin (Chapel Hill, 1999), 263–64.
  • John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes (first published 1947)