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War for Freedom: A guide for teachers and learners African Americans on Cockspur Island, Georgia, after the fall of Ft. Pulaski, c. 1862 (NPS photo)

The development of these materials was supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to the National Park Foundation, a non-Federal, non-profit, independent organization, with the cooperation of the American History Workshop and the Freedman and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland.  Any views expressed in these materials are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent those of the NEH.


Harpers Ferry, VA

Gettysburg, PA

Fort Pulaski, GA

Fort Sumter, SC

War for Freedom:

African Americans in the Era of the Civil War

In the four years of the American Civil War, the United States began to redeem itself from the 250-year-long tragedy of slavery. On the battlefields of that war, and in the buildings, artifacts, documents, and stories they contain, four million African Americans won their freedom. These sites, many of which have been preserved by the National Park Service, eloquently testify to the nation’s “rebirth of freedom.”

War for Freedom brings teachers and students close to the day-to-day lives and thoughts of black Americans moving from enslavement to emancipation. Each War for Freedom unit guides students to do research with original historic documents, to re-create moments of drama and personal choice, to understand the relevance of the struggle for their own lives, and to synthesize their learning and imagination in creative collaborative projects.

War for Freedom opens a window to each of these challenging situations:

  • Manassas, VA Walk in the shoes of Gentleman Jim Robinson, a free African American who makes his way in a slave-state—and then after the war has to prove his loyalty to the Union.

  • Harpers Ferry, VA October, 1859. Moving back into time, you are now a free black resident of Harpers Ferry. John Brown recently raided your town, blood was spilled and he now sits awaiting trial. Rumor has it that he hoped to bring freedom for all enslaved people. What are you thinking? Do you support what has happened? How has this changed your world?

  • Gettysburg, PA A black homeowner, you’ve fled the advancing Confederate troops only to return and find your home destroyed. What is in your mind as you stand listening to Lincoln’s ringing words in the Gettysburg Address?

  • Ft. Pulaski, GA You and thousands of enslaved peoples have fled their plantation homes and enlisted in the military struggle against slavery. What will you need to truly live in freedom?

  • Ft. Sumter, SC You’re part of a population living under the most awful terrors of wartime oppression. How do you and others find ways to strike out for freedom?

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