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Slavery and the American Revolution

All-Day Weekend Program

Saturday, February 20, 2021 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2114
$80 - Member
$90 - Non-Member
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Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, a variation of the engraving by Paul Revere; John Bufford after William L. Champey, 1856 (National Archives)


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.


The American Revolution was a transformative moment in African American history, a war for freedom second only to the Civil War in significance.

African Americans threw themselves into the war effort with more enthusiasm and with more at stake than did many white colonists.  The chaos of the war itself brought many enslaved men new opportunities for independence as the British army promised freedom to those who might be willing to desert their rebel masters and join the king’s regiments. 

But after the British surrendered and evacuated, Black fortunes would diverge dramatically. In the North, the patriots’ victory spurred the rise of the anti-slavery movement, but in the South, that same great victory helped entrench plantation slavery for generations to come.

In an engrossing and enlightening seminar, historian Richard Bell of the University of Maryland explores the American Revolution from the unfamiliar perspective of enslaved and free African Americans.

10–11:05 a.m.  Declaring Independence

Over eight long years of war, both the Continental and British armies appealed to Black Americans for manpower. How African Americans responded to the call to arms and the chaos of war reveals their own declarations of independence.

11:20 a.m.–12:30 p.m.  Claiming Legal Freedom

After the war, most Northern states moved to abolish slavery. Similar proposals in the South faltered and failed. Enslaved people there took matters into their own hands and seized freedom for themselves.

12:30–1:30 p.m.  Break

1:30 to 2:35 p.m.  The Constitution’s Counter-revolution

Bell examines the work done by the 1787 Constitution to repair the damage to the slave system wrought during the Revolutionary War. While the Constitution never used the word “slave,” it created a political system that protected and empowered enslavers.

2:50–4 p.m.  The Black Founders

The struggles of Richard Allen and other first-generation free Black leaders in northern cities as they built robust communities of faith and fellowship that could extend and expand the anti-racist fight beyond the legal end of slavery in the North.


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  • Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.