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 their disposal—polite persuasion, the call of Christian conscience, direct action to free enslaved people, and the threat of all-out race war—to advance their cause. When the Civil War began, African Americans wasted no time fleeing their enslavers and rushing to the Union lines.
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, a finalist for the George Washington Prize.
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