The Atlantic Slave Trade was the forced migration of millions of Africans to Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean between the 15th and 19th centuries. Densely packed on ships called “slavers,” this leg of the trade is known as the Middle Passage. This voyage from the West African Coast to North America was long and difficult. Resistance was common, and in some instances this resulted in widespread rebellion onboard the ships. When enslaved Africans arrived in the New World, they continued to resist slavery through a number of tactics: work slow downs, running away, anything to reclaim some measure of the freedom and humanity they were being denied.
As the United States expanded from 13 colonies, the debates over chattel slavery grew—some states came to abolish it, while others refused to untangle their political, economic, and social life from the institution. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, enslaved African Americans saw the war as opportunity to emancipate themselves. When President Lincoln authorized the Emancipation Proclamation, formerly enslaved African American men joined the Union army to fight for the full emancipation of their race. The conclusion of the war in Union victory and the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution brought African Americans closer than they ever had been to full citizenship. Nevertheless, the struggle for equality continued. Through our historical resources, the National Park Service tells these stories of African-American perseverance in the face of great adversity.
Last updated: June 19, 2020