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America’s Long Struggle against Slavery

Witness the centuries-long fight against the institution of slavery from the western coast of Africa to the plantations and battlefields of America.
America’s Long Struggle against Slavery is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 74.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! I have been purchasing courses from the Great Courses over 30 years. This is the very best one I have ever experienced. Informative and compelling. I especially appreciated the last two lectures on the harsh and uncomfortable subject of modern slavery. Please Great Courses, give us more courses on such difficult subject matters and less retreads of the "Western Canon"
Date published: 2024-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Every American Should See This Course! I thought I knew a lot about the history of slavery, but I was wrong. This course we full of new information about the realities of slavery, and how powerfully the slaves resisted their terrible situation. The professor was excellent. Every person in this country over the age of 12 would benefit from seeing this course.
Date published: 2023-08-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Do Better, Professor Others have noted a problem with the last two lectures. Overall a good course. Lectures #29 and 30 presented a simplistic, one-size-fits all analysis of a problem and its solution unworthy of a college freshman, let alone a professor. That being said, I learned much about the history of the struggle against slavery, and, thanks to Professor Bell's pontificating, why exploitation of the vulnerable is not being adequately addressed.
Date published: 2023-07-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good on slavery, poor on end struggle This course is a very good overview of American slavery, particularly in the colonial period and early American republican periods. But I give it only four stars instead of five, because it gives a poor account of how slavery came to an end. Slavery ended because mostly white abolitionists and antislavery activists and politicians organized a series of anti-slavery political parties from 1840 to 1860 ( Liberty Party, Free Soil Party, Republican Party) that ended up putting a Republican in the White House and Radical Republicans in the Congress. This provoked Southern secession and the Civil War. During the Civil War many slaves liberated themselves by crossing into Union lines and many blacks joined the Union army that defeated the Confederacy. This course mentions the Liberty men only once briefly and doesn't mention the Free Soil Party at all or explain how the Republican Party came into being dedicated to ending the expansion of slavery. William Garrison has an entire lecture devoted to him, despite his playing only a minor role after the split in the anti-slavery movement in the late 1830s. Garrisonians constituted only about ten percent of abolitionists in the 1840s and 1850s. The final two lectures in the course are very good.
Date published: 2023-05-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The World’s Long Struggle against Slavery Dr. Bell gives us a good review of the history of slavery in the United States of America; however, he covers very little new material which makes it appear as though the point of this course it to continue picking at the scab in order to keep us from healing and making America great again. I’ll be convinced otherwise when he offers these follow up courses: 1. Europe’s Long Struggle against Slavery 2. Asia’s Long Struggle against Slavery 3. Africa’s Long Struggle against Slavery 4 South America’s Long Struggle against Slavery
Date published: 2023-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comments from a learner This is a lecture series with a great amount of information, far beyond the basics taught in schools. I highly recommend the lecture series to my fellow Aferican-Americans and those who are not. I will caution, the narrator does in the last lecture give some options of his own that you may disagree with.
Date published: 2023-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Title Is the Focus I'm reading the reviews in which so many are critiquing topics not covered. The focus of these lectures is right in the title - America's LONG STRUGGLE Against Slavery. The professor touches on elements such as the economics and other related issues, but the main focus is the abolitionists involved, both slave and free, and the quest for emancipation and the system and attitudes, political and moral, they fought against. Other aspects are well worth investigating, but he couldn't possibly touch on all of them. It's a compelling series.
Date published: 2023-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly informative and truth-speaking Another over-the-fences production of the Teaching Company, and one very relevant for these times as some of the centuries-old resistance to non-white influence and governance in this country is resurfacing once again. In a series of lectures whose themes are well chosen and clearly and illustratively explore, Dr. Bell shows us how pervasive the slave trade had been for several centuries prior to the American Revolution. And how by that time, moreover, it had become a deeply entrenched institution in what had been the American colonies for a couple of centuries earlier. Since I am a US historian, there was nothing entirely new to me in this series, but I do not mean this in any way as any form of "faint praise." Far from it! This course presents us with some facts and truths that are likely to be unknown to many and uncomfortable for others, especially these: 1) The vital entangling role that Northern merchants and shippers had in supporting slavery (in both North and South for many years) and in supplying Southern colonies and then states with slaves. 2) The fierce, and largely successful, resistance of Southern states in pushing back against the constitutional gains won by Black people after the Civil War so that in many respects the "tools of slavery" were effectively reimposed within decades, and remained so until the civil rights actions that began anew in the 1950s. 3) And, most courageously on Dr. Bell's part, how after the blows to segregation delivered by Supreme Court decisions and actions by the Congress in the 1950s and 1960s, the most recent push-back against Black people -- especially Black men -- began with the War on Drugs, the "three strikes and you're out" rule, and harsh minimal sentences. The result? Many thousands of Black men imprisoned and, because once you are a felon you lose the right to vote, unable to express their sentiments at the polls. If you want to learn about the beginnings of the slave trade, how slaves were captured, transported, treated, and sold, you will learn much.. If you want to know how attitudes supporting the institution developed and were maintained -- including wide-spread racism outside the South, you will also gain that knowledge. And if you want to better understand how slaves themselves consistently resisted and sought to undermine this savage institution -- perhaps an area largely unknown by most people -- you will learn this, too. We cannot take those steps we need to take to create a truly free and equal society unless we understand -- and fact up to -- the many ways inequality came to exist -- and is still supported. A powerful course, brilliantly, calmly, and truthfully presented!
Date published: 2022-09-27
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America's Long Struggle against Slavery is your chance to survey the history of the American anti-slavery movement, from the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade during the late 15th century to the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and beyond. Taught by Professor Richard Bell of the University of Maryland, these 30 eye-opening lectures give you an up-close view of a venal institution and the people who fought against it-and who often paid for their courage with their lives.


Richard Bell

No one is ever truly ordinary.


University of Maryland, College Park

Richard Bell is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He holds a BA from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from Harvard University. Dr. Bell has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the Board of Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor for teaching faculty in the University System of Maryland. He has held major research fellowships at Yale University, the University of Cambridge, and the Library of Congress.


Dr. Bell serves as a trustee of the Maryland Historical Society, an elected member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author or coeditor of multiple journal articles and three books: We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States; Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America; and Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home, which received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award.

By This Professor

America’s Long Struggle against Slavery
Ordinary Americans in the Revolution
America’s Long Struggle against Slavery


Understanding the Fight against Slavery

01: Understanding the Fight against Slavery

Begin your course with an exploration of the long war against slavery, which began centuries before the American Civil War. Professor Bell offers a survey of resistance among enslaved Africans in the 17th and 18th centuries and outlines five generational periods in the long struggle to end slavery.

25 min
Origins of Slavery in the British Empire

02: Origins of Slavery in the British Empire

Slavery in the British Empire has its roots in the trading economy of the 16th century. See how the Englishman John Hawkins cut into the Portuguese slave trade in the New World, which led to the founding of the Royal African Company, the largest slaving operation in the Atlantic.

26 min
Opposing the African Slave Trade

03: Opposing the African Slave Trade

The American slave trade began in Africa. It is an uncomfortable truth that African rulers and merchants played a hand in supplying slaves to Europeans. However, a look at the African continent also shows us the first strategies of resistance, from defensively trying to elude capture to offensive efforts to get away from the hellish confinement of European forts.

26 min
Shipboard Rebellion and Resistance

04: Shipboard Rebellion and Resistance

Leaving the continent of Africa, the second place for resistance was aboard the slave ships as they departed for the Caribbean. Although we have limited historical records, this lecture explores the suicides, runaways, and revolts on slave ships, as well as the efforts made by Europeans to control the enslaved.

29 min
A Free Black Family in Colonial Virginia

05: A Free Black Family in Colonial Virginia

Shift your attention to the Chesapeake tobacco economy in the 17th century, a time when colonial law changed in a way that would promote the slave economy. First, you will meet Anthony Johnson, a freed slave who in turn held his own slaves. Then, see how Bacon’s Rebellion paved the way for slave codes that changed the social order in Virginia.

25 min
Quakers and Puritans Join the Fight

06: Quakers and Puritans Join the Fight

Where were the moral voices among white Europeans speaking out against the heinous system of slavery? The American Quaker community had a long history of antislavery activism, from legal pamphlets to spiritual protests. Learn more about the Quaker community, its views on slavery, and its limitations in the early American economy.

29 min
Thomas Thistlewood’s Plantation Revolution

07: Thomas Thistlewood’s Plantation Revolution

One hallmark of the plantation economy in Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina is that black slaves outnumbered their white masters by a wide margin. As such, see how whites used dehumanizing tactics to control the slave population. Then review Tacky’s Revolt, one of the largest slave rebellions in the British Atlantic world during the 18th century.

25 min
Phibbah Thistlewood: Sleeping with the Enemy

08: Phibbah Thistlewood: Sleeping with the Enemy

Among runaway slaves, men outnumbered women nearly two to one, but that doesn’t mean women played no role in resistance. As this lecture will make clear, women practiced several strategies for resistance—critically important because of the prevalence of assault on plantations. A woman named Phibbah provides a fascinating case study.

29 min
Slave Insurrections in the 18th Century

09: Slave Insurrections in the 18th Century

Although there may have been several hundred slave uprisings in British North America and the United States, most of them were minor—or possibly even imagined by paranoid slave masters. Here, delve into the Stono Rebellion of 1739, which was the only significant armed challenge to slaveholders’ supremacy on the mainland before the 19th century.

30 min
Maroons: Those Who Escaped

10: Maroons: Those Who Escaped

Runaway slaves in Virginia and the Carolinas had limited options. They could head for the coast or down to Spanish-controlled Florida, but some runaway slaves simply disappeared into the backcountry. Find out where these “maroons” went, how they lived, and what dangers they faced if discovered.

27 min
Three Quaker Activists

11: Three Quaker Activists

Meet three important Quaker activists from the 17th and 18th centuries: a fiery hermit writer named Benjamin Lay, a shopkeeper and essayist named John Woolman, and a schoolteacher named Anthony Benezet, who set up Philadelphia’s first Free African School. Reflect on the transformation in attitudes that was occurring during the 18th century.

29 min
Slavery in the War for Independence

12: Slavery in the War for Independence

While American colonists fought for independence against their British oppressors, the war provided free and enslaved African Americans an opportunity to fight their own war against slavery. Professor Bell introduces you to black militiamen and soldiers on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and reveals the setbacks they faced after the war.

27 min
Taking Slavery to Court

13: Taking Slavery to Court

The American Revolution marked a watershed in the history of opposition to African slavery in America. In northern states, Pennsylvania led the charge in legal changes that would lead to gradual abolition. While abolition efforts failed in southern states, some individual slaves were able to strike deals with their masters for manumission.

28 min
Charles Pinckney’s Counterrevolution

14: Charles Pinckney’s Counterrevolution

While many abolition efforts started to take hold after the American Revolution, an equally powerful revolution was underway to secure the slave system. Here, you will review the reprehensible three-fifths clause and other pro-slavery measures in the 1787 Constitution, which would take antislavery activists decades to undo.

27 min
The Haitian Revolution

15: The Haitian Revolution

Between 1791 and 1804, the Haitian Revolution tore apart a French Caribbean colony. As you will learn, not only was it the single largest slave revolt in the history of the world, it was the only one that had succeeded so far. Delve into this radical and violent revolution to meet the players and uncover what happened in these 13 astonishing years.

27 min
Founding the Free Black Churches

16: Founding the Free Black Churches

There is more to fighting slavery than achieving legal liberty, a simple truth that this country’s first generation of free black leaders discovered in post-Revolutionary War northern cities. See how the expanding free black population in Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere looked for ways to help themselves.

28 min
The Second Middle Passage

17: The Second Middle Passage

At the turn of the 19th century, social and economic conditions were shifting inside the United States, and President Jefferson signed into law an act prohibiting the importation of slaves. Learn about the mass migration of slaves from Virginia into the Deep South of Louisiana that resulted, and how this migration transformed the country.

27 min

18: "Our Native Country": Opposing Colonization

Delve into the colonization movement, an effort that sprang to life in the 1810s to send black people from America to Africa. Consider the questions this movement posed for African Americans: Where was home? Were they African or American? Where did they belong? Investigate both sides of this controversial movement.

30 min
David Walker, Nat Turner, and Black Immediatism

19: David Walker, Nat Turner, and Black Immediatism

Writer David Walker and insurrectionist Nat Turner transformed the debate about slavery in America. Their immediate words and deeds terrorized southern slaveholders as never before and forced legislators to articulate just how far they would go to protect the institution of slavery. Meet these extraordinary men and witness their actions.

27 min
William Lloyd Garrison's

20: William Lloyd Garrison's "Thousand Witnesses"

David Walker’s words and Nat Turner’s actions had a galvanizing effect upon white abolitionists, most notably William Lloyd Garrison. See how Garrison and others shifted from an attitude of slow, gradual change to a stance of immediacy. Survey an unprecedented campaign to challenge slaveholders’ moral authority in the 1830s.

26 min
Surviving King Cotton

21: Surviving King Cotton

The mass migration of the Second Middle Passage changed the nature of resistance to slavery. Responding to the threat of separation from their families and opposition to their sale to the Deep South, slaves participated in multifaceted and unrelenting resistance. Survey this struggle and these troubling times.

24 min
Roger Taney: Nationalizing Slavery

22: Roger Taney: Nationalizing Slavery

Learn about the confounding life of Roger Taney, who as a young man turned his back on his family’s tobacco plantation and manumitted many of his own slaves. Yet, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he dramatically expanded the rights of slaveholders through infamous decisions such as Dred Scott v. Sanford.

25 min
Frederick Douglass and Aggressive Abolition

23: Frederick Douglass and Aggressive Abolition

In the wake of a financial crash in 1837, Garrison’s abolition movement was sidelined, but the 1840s and 1850s saw the rise of an even more radical and aggressive phase of American abolitionism. Meet Frederick Douglass, review his writings, and consider the depictions of suicide in antislavery writing.

24 min
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman

24: Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a blockbuster novel that depicted the flight to freedom. Consider this depiction from two very different vantages: the world of the author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the life of Harriet Tubman, who was at the center of immediate and decisive steps being taken by enslaved people.

31 min
The Black Heart of John Brown

25: The Black Heart of John Brown

John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry is one of the most famous antislavery actions before the Civil War. Who was he, and why was this raid so important? Was it an act of revolution or terrorism? Reflect on the irony that he achieved in death what he so palpably failed to achieve in life.

26 min
The Slaves' Experience of the Civil War

26: The Slaves' Experience of the Civil War

From the beginning of the war, enslaved people understood it to be a war of freedom, a war to destroy American slavery. But President Lincoln’s charge was simply to preserve the union. Find out how this tension played out on plantations and battlefields, in Congress and in the White House, during the Civil War.

25 min
US Colored Troops: Those Who Served

27: US Colored Troops: Those Who Served

Continue your study of the Civil War with a look at the role of black soldiers. Review what life was like for them in a predominantly white army, and the ill treatment many received. Then shift your attention to the role of black women during the war, many of whom served as cooks and nurses in Union hospitals. Survey the incredible wartime career of Harriet Tubman.

25 min
Fighting Slavery after Emancipation

28: Fighting Slavery after Emancipation

The end of the Civil War brought legalized slavery in the United States to an end, and 3.5 million freed slaves in the South stepped into an uncertain future. Dive into some of the many challenges Americans—white and black, southern and northern—faced in the subsequent years.

25 min
Slavery by Another Name

29: Slavery by Another Name

Although the 13th Amendment outlawed race slavery in America and the Civil War is far in the past, the legacy of slavery and the fight for equal protection and representation among black Americans has been an ongoing struggle. Reflect on the effects of Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and the state of race relations in America today.

17 min
Fighting Modern Slavery

30: Fighting Modern Slavery

The history of the early 21st century may show racism is alive and well—but so, too, is slavery. Around the world, 20 to 40 million people are enslaved. To conclude this course, survey several case studies of slaves around the world and in the United States. What lessons can we draw from history?

22 min