Fighting Slavery in the Civil War Era: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Richard Bell

Fighting Slavery in the Civil War Era: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Richard Bell


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The Civil War was the largest slave revolt in world history, a freedom war that lurched American history off its rails.

The great struggle would end with the destruction of American slavery and the passage of the 13th Amendment. But that glorious victory was the result of years of struggle and sacrifice by men and women who devoted their lives to advancing the freedom struggle in America. In the ten years before Lincoln’s unlikely election to the office of president, African American activists and their white allies had been building a national movement to focus northern attention on the plight of southern slaves. They used every tool at this disposal – polite persuasion, the call of Christian conscience, direct action to free the enslaved, and the threat of all-out race war to advance their cause, and when the Civil War began African Americans wasted no time fleeing their enslavers and rushing to the Union lines.

This four-part course explores the antislavery fight in the era of the Civil War. Lecture one explores John Brown’s doomed raid on Harpers’ Ferry, the most violent and provocative act of antislavery terrorism before the war. Lecture two pushes deep into the war itself to demonstrate the central role enslaved people played in turning Lincoln’s war to preserve the Union into a war to free the slaves.

Lecture three tells the story of the United States Colored Troops, the 179,000 black men who pulled on Union uniforms and picked up Union muskets to sweep the Confederacy into the dustbin of history. Lecture four carries this story into the Reconstruction era—an era in which great hopes for post-war racial equality foundered against a rising tide of white supremacy.

Lecture 1: The Black Heart of John Brown

By almost any reasonable standard, John Brown 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry was an act of terrorism; the work of a messianic fanatic, an ideological extremist. Yet as this first lecture argues, this sort of provocation was long overdue and it struck a blow at the Slave Power from which it never recovered.

Lecture 2: The Slaves’ War

Lincoln had been elected on a platform of stopping the spread of slavery into free territories in the northwest, not attacking slavery where it already existed. But, as this lecture demonstrates, enslaved people slowly and surely pushed the president and his commanders in the field to embrace emancipation as a war aim.

Lecture 3: Black and Blue

This third lecture explores the wartime experiences of tens of thousands of black men—from the free North, the border states, and the unfree South—who fought slavery while wearing Union blue. Despite harassment and racism in the ranks, they flocked to the Union lines casting themselves as liberators and turning the world upside down.

Lecture 4: Fighting Slavery After Emancipation

This last lecture examines a simple question: what is freedom in a world without slavery? For more than a decade after 1865 blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, struggled with this most pressing of questions, ultimately subordinating the prospect of racial justice to the job of rebuilding the union.

Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland and author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home which is shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. He serves as a Trustee of the Maryland Center for History and Culture, as an elected member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and as a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in American Civil War history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for 4 lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 6 reviews
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V
V.B.
If I could give this course 10 stars I would
K
K.C.
Context never disappoints
J
J.M.
Enthralling Course
B
B.S.B.
A Review of Fighting Slavery in the Civil War Era with Dr. Richard Bell
K
K.C.
Knowledgeable and Informative

Customer Reviews

Based on 6 reviews
100%
(6)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
V
V.B.
If I could give this course 10 stars I would
K
K.C.
Context never disappoints
J
J.M.
Enthralling Course
B
B.S.B.
A Review of Fighting Slavery in the Civil War Era with Dr. Richard Bell
K
K.C.
Knowledgeable and Informative