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African American History: From the African Coast to the Civil War

Relive the astonishing journey of African Americans, from the dehumanizing experience of slavery to the remarkable chronicle of their endurance, resistance, and passionate battle for liberty and justice.
African American History: From the African Coast to the Civil War is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 20.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lecturer I have viewed a large number of Great Courses in the last 3 years and truly believe that this course is the best one I have viewed. Dr. Alexander is an outstanding lecturer; she is extremely knowledgeable about African American history. Although I know a lot about this topic, I learned a lot from her. Her lecture is well documented, well organized, and presented in a clear and interesting manner. She offers many examples of real events and people that make her lecture come alive. I felt like she was telling me a story rather than giving a college lecture and I truly enjoyed listening to her. I do hope that she will develop other Great Courses as I am eager to learn more from her. I was also excited that the Great Courses was offering a comprehensive course on this important topic.
Date published: 2024-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! I did not know how little I knew. This is the most amazing course that I have taken from the Great Courses. Why this material has been left out of the study of US history, I do not know I am of European descent and now have a far greater understanding of the African-American experience. I look forward to watching this again with my African-American grandson.
Date published: 2024-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Passionate delivery. The impassioned delivery of the lecture material make this course, more or less, riveting to listen to. The information supplied also added much depth to the general sort of information I was already familiar with.
Date published: 2024-03-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I don’t give stars I have tried to avoid writing a review of this course. However I must warn you, if you like this course stay away from the lecture on the Amistad. I would also add three or four lectures on Columbus, Islam and others. I have been to Gambia, South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I stopped listening to this at lecture 10. My ancestors came to America as slaves, they were Irish.
Date published: 2024-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Disturbing! At the outset, I must state that never has a course offered by TTC/TGC/Wondrium affected or disturbed me so deeply. I freely admit that I was moved to tears several times during this remarkable series of lectures offered by Dr. Leslie Alexander. I was born in Texas in 1946 to a White family--far from rich and not too far from poor--and remember "Colored Only" signs by drinking fountains and restrooms, poll taxes to exclude Black voters, Blacks being consigned to the back of the bus, and Black gentlemen doffing their hats and moving off sidewalks to let White people pass. "It's just the way it is," was the answer I always received when, as a child, I asked, "Why?" Throughout this fascinating course, Dr. Alexander answered my question in every lesson. But for me, it was best answered succinctly in a quote from the 1857 Dred Scott vs Stanford Supreme Case in which Chief Justice Roger B. Taney writing for the majority, stated, "They [the Black race] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit." Dr. Alexander takes a well-balanced but firm position throughout the course. I believe that were I her, I could not be so kind. She handles slavery in both the North and the South with an even hand. Throughout, it's people--individually and collectively--that take center stage. And she does not spare us, nor sugarcoat, the atrocities inflicted upon those who were enslaved by their "masters." But she balances these horrors with the determination, grit and heroic acts of the enslaved to win their freedom. Yes, this is another "talking heads" style which TGC/Wondrium is so enamored with, but all future lecturers would do well to watch and adopt Dr. Alexander's style. She is animated! Her voice is extreme well-modulated, her face shines, her torso and hands move. This is the first time in some years that I didn't mind that a presenter was seated. BRAVA!!! I purposefully did not go through the various lectures as I could in no way do justice to them. Of all the TTC/TGC/Wondrium courses I have taken since 2001, this ranks among the top three--and it has my highest recommendation! Don't take my word for it, see for yourself. And I sincerely hope we see Dr. Alexander back--and often!
Date published: 2024-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent speaker! The presentation is captivating, both in content and narrative style.
Date published: 2024-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs more "From the African Coast" I watched the first part of this series to learn more about the slave-exporting societies that once existed along the West African Coast. While there is a nice overview of pre-European contact African history just south of the Sahara and the Portuguese exploration Africa, and very detailed information about the experience of being sold as a slave within Africa, I don't feel that I received much information about the contemporary coastal societies in which this was occurring. We learn almost nothing about the societies the enslaved people came from. We really only hear generalities about the political and cultural structure of this region, and we barely receive any information about who was facilitating the trade within Africa. Apparently rival states were selling each other's people to Europeans, but I don't think we ever hear any of these states' names. We also don't really hear what these African states were receiving in exchange for this trade. Benin City, apparently a major slave hub, is briefly mentioned but then just sort of disappears in favor of a first-person narrative. I would have liked more economic information about how the African phase in the trade in people worked. I liked the lectures overall though, engaging speaker though she sometimes uses odd terminology, even-handed and evidence-based presentation on a sensitive topic, good use of primary sources, both visual and written, really high production value for a Great Courses series. Good course, I just wish it had more information about the African coast for something with "From the African Coast" in the title.
Date published: 2024-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Phenomenal I'm only half way through this course, but it is phenomenal. It is very informative and captivating. The professor has such an incredible depth of knowledge. And no "white guilt." Just the facts. Probably the best course I've taken from The Great Courses.
Date published: 2024-03-13
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The struggle of African Americans to gain the full rights of citizenship lives at the heart of the American experiment in democracy. In this course, you’ll learn about the history of slavery in America and its extreme brutality; how enslaved African Americans endured and worked tirelessly for freedom and justice; the hardships of free Black Americans; the abolition movements; the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation; and much more.


Leslie Alexander

My goal will be to expand your understanding of African American history—the breadth and depth of the Black experience in America, and also, to highlight the significance of history in the present moment.


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Leslie Alexander is the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She earned a PhD in History from Cornell University. She is the author of African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784–1861 as well as Fear of a Black Republic: Haiti and the Birth of Black Internationalism. She also coedited the Encyclopedia of African American History and served as president of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora.

By This Professor

African American History: From the African Coast to the Civil War
African American History: From the African Coast to the Civil War


The Origins of African Americans

01: The Origins of African Americans

Begin the course with an overview of the civilizations and societies of West Africa before the arrival of Europeans. Investigate the rise and fall of the great empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, and the vast trade networks that sustained them. Then explore the rich and complex societies that thrived along the central African coastline, and how they became vulnerable to invasion.

34 min
Europe’s Expansion in the Atlantic World

02: Europe’s Expansion in the Atlantic World

Trace the rise of European exploration in the 15th century, and the factors that underlaid it. Observe how the Renaissance ideology of humanism drove a desire for expansion and wealth. Take account of the advances in military and seafaring technology that made exploration possible. Follow the first Portuguese incursions into West Africa, beginning a trade in humans that quickly became profitable.

29 min
The Transatlantic Trade in Humans

03: The Transatlantic Trade in Humans

Learn how the Portuguese developed a military presence in West Africa to protect their trade in gold and humans, followed by the Dutch, French, and British. Examine the reasons why African rulers were initially willing to traffic humans—and were, ultimately, forced to do so. Track the European expansion into the Americas, which made the demand for enslaved labor insatiable.

28 min
Enslavement from Capture to Sale

04: Enslavement from Capture to Sale

Hear firsthand accounts of the kidnapping of Africans who were sold into bondage. Observe the ways in which Africans were captured, including the enslavement of children. Visualize the long, forced marches to the coast, the suffering and death en route, and imprisonment before sale to traders. Finally, witness the dehumanizing process of the sale of captives, and the traders’ astonishing cruelty.

26 min
The Middle Passage

05: The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage was the brutal sea journey of African captives to slavery in the Americas. Investigate the horrific conditions of life aboard slave ships, and the numerous uprisings by Africans to regain their freedom, against a background of cruel punishments, disease, suicides, and death. Learn how Africans coped, survived, and were “seasoned” to accept a new identity as slaves.

33 min
Slavery Takes Root

06: Slavery Takes Root

Explore how slavery developed within North America’s 13 British colonies. Trace the origins of slavery in the Caribbean, and its importation to the mainland to support plantation agriculture. Examine why slavery in America became based entirely on race. Then study the colonial laws and legal codes that defined slavery and denied Africans the most basic human rights and freedoms.

32 min
Slavery in Colonial America

07: Slavery in Colonial America

Investigate the nature of slavery in America before the American Revolution. Observe how slavery took root in the Chesapeake region through tobacco cultivation, how it thrived in New England, in mostly urban settings, and in the Carolina colony through rice production. Note the differences in the experience of enslaved women from that of men, and the unrelenting cruelty of their treatment.

32 min
Black Culture and Revolt in the Colonies

08: Black Culture and Revolt in the Colonies

Discover how enslaved Africans managed to retain their heritage, despite the horrors of enslavement. Note how they practiced African methods of agriculture, cooking and consuming food, healing, and medicine, as well as music and dance traditions and religious and celebratory rituals. Learn also how cultural practices undergirded the numerous revolts by enslaved Africans seeking freedom.

33 min
Black Protest in the Age of Revolution

09: Black Protest in the Age of Revolution

Delve into the response by both enslaved and free Africans to the events of the American Revolution. Grasp their dilemma of whether to side with the British or with the American rebels and learn about the outpouring of African American men who served in both armies, hoping for freedom following the conflict. Assess the painful outcome for Africans, as the slave system expanded dramatically after the war.

32 min
Black Enlightenment Thought

10: Black Enlightenment Thought

Trace the lives of Phillis Wheatley and Benjamin Banneker, two African American intellectuals who achieved wide recognition in literature and science. Drawing on the principles of the American Revolution, observe how many enslaved Africans leveraged the legal system to petition for their freedom and human rights, winning lawsuits and setting legal precedents for the abolition of slavery in the North.

31 min
Freedom’s Failures

11: Freedom’s Failures

Here, study the process and the aftermath of legal emancipation in the North. See how slavery was legally abolished in northern states, and the economic shifts, religious movements, and currents of thought that influenced abolition. Examine Northern policies of “gradual emancipation,” and the lingering opposition to ending slavery, as well as African American poverty, that plagued northern societies.

30 min
How Cotton Revived Slavery

12: How Cotton Revived Slavery

Slavery expanded dramatically in the South following the Revolution. Track the rise of cotton production, its vast need for labor, and the strategies of plantation owners to satisfy the need. Delve into enslaved life on cotton plantations; the routines of cotton cultivation; and the extreme brutality and legal strictures that sustained the slavery system, noting particularly what enslaved women endured.

34 min
Black Culture and Resistance in the South

13: Black Culture and Resistance in the South

Uncover the ways in which the enslaved created meaningful lives despite their bondage. See how enslaved Africans forged alternative conceptions of family, developed a Christian “liberation theology,” and expressed themselves through humor and music. Observe their many forms of daily resistance, from concealing their feelings and deceiving slaveholders to creatively protecting each other.

31 min
Armed Rebellion in the Antebellum Era

14: Armed Rebellion in the Antebellum Era

Take the measure of the Haitian Revolution, where Africans threw off the yoke of slavery and established an independent Black nation. Grasp how the events in Haiti inspired and influenced numerous armed uprisings in the United States, highlighting the Virginia rebellion of 1800, the Louisiana uprising of 1811, the South Carolina revolt of 1822, and the landmark Nat Turner rebellion of 1831.

32 min
Free Black Communities in the North

15: Free Black Communities in the North

Examine the hopes of newly emancipated Africans in the North, and why they dissolved into severe hardship and suffering. Following emancipation, track the growth of African American social and political organizations, churches, and schools. Witness the violent backlash of white Northerners, in the massive anti-Black riots of the early 19th century, destroying African American communities in northern cities.

30 min
Black Nationalism and Emigration

16: Black Nationalism and Emigration

Chart the rise of emigration movements, as Northern African Americans considered relocation to more welcoming countries. Follow the unfolding of Black emigration to Canada, Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Liberia, and the advent of the American Colonization Society, a white organization aiming to forcibly remove African Americans from the United States. See why emigration movements eventually fell into disrepute.

33 min
From Antislavery to Abolition

17: From Antislavery to Abolition

In the early 19th century, a full-fledged abolition movement emerged in the United States. Learn how African American activists inspired antislavery leaders to call for an immediate end to slavery, and how the work of white abolitionist William Garrison culminated in the American Anti-Slavery Society. Trace the role of women in the abolitionist cause, and the ideological rifts that caused the movement to fracture.

30 min
Black Political Thinkers in the North

18: Black Political Thinkers in the North

Follow the development of African American political and intellectual thought in the antebellum North, through the lives of major activists. Begin with David Walker, author of an incendiary treatise against slavery. Continue with Maria Stewart, an impassioned writer and speaker; famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass; and Sojourner Truth, who championed both emancipation and women’s rights.

32 min
The Black Struggle for Citizenship

19: The Black Struggle for Citizenship

Take account of the deep conflicts over strategy that challenged the abolitionist movement in the 1840s, dividing advocates for moral appeals to white Americans against those favoring direct or violent action in the name of freedom. Then see how African American activists successfully fought segregation in the North and waged a concerted battle for unrestricted voting rights and full rights of citizenship.

29 min
Running for Freedom

20: Running for Freedom

This lecture follows the stories of fugitives, enslaved people who sacrificed everything to free themselves from bondage. Better understand why fugitivity was a major and ongoing irritant for Southern enslavers. Learn about the severe perils of escape and hear accounts of famous fugitives who used ingenious strategies to gain freedom. Learn about the remarkable organizations that arose to assist fugitives.

31 min
Slavery Splinters the Union

21: Slavery Splinters the Union

In the 1850s, the battles regarding slavery tore the Union apart, leading inexorably to the Civil War. Examine the economic and political debates over slavery, and the conflicts over free versus slave states that deepened the tensions between North and South. Witness the events of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, and John Brown’s Raid, as the country teetered toward war.

33 min
The Politics of Emancipation

22: The Politics of Emancipation

Relive the opening of the Civil War and explore how African Americans responded to the conflict. See how enslaved people in the South seized the opportunity to gain their freedom and trace the conflicted impulses of Black Northerners. Grapple with the myth of Abraham Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” and track his political quandary as he faced increasing pressure to emancipate the enslaved.

27 min
Battling the Curse of Slavery

23: Battling the Curse of Slavery

With the Union’s acceptance of African American soldiers, see how African Americans faced severe discrimination in the military. Note their bravery in military actions, turning the tide of the war. Investigate lingering Northern racism, and the horrific anti-Black violence in New York City in retaliation for the draft. Learn how the exodus of the enslaved in the South precipitated the end of the Civil War.

33 min
The Fruits and Failures of Reconstruction

24: The Fruits and Failures of Reconstruction

Conclude with a look at the conditions for Black Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War. Learn about the policies of Reconstruction, as America adjusted to a post-slavery reality. Observe how African Americans initially made strong advances into business and politics but were impeded by anti-Black sentiment, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and a stringent re-imposition of white supremacy.

35 min