Slavery in America begun in 1619 when privateer The White Lion brought 20 African slaves ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries people continued to be kidnapped from the continent of Africa and forced into slavery in the American colonies, exploited to work as indentured servants mainly in the production of crops such as tobacco and cotton.
In the late 1800s, the abolition movement finally provoked a debate that would tear the USA apart and lead to civil war, a move that would eventually free four million slaves. That came about when eventually, on 31st January 1865 the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.
Today in light of that we’ve created a list of book that we think show the horrors of American slavery and allow readers to learn more about that shameful time in history.
12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup
For a while, slavery was common in some states (mainly in the South), while in other northern states, black men were free. One such man was Solomon Northup, a freeman from New York who was tricked and then sold into slavery. This is his story.
Harriet Tubman: The Road To Freedom – Catherine Clinton
Harriet Tubman is so well known there’s even an entire day dedicated to her memory. Tubman escaped slavery using the system of safe houses known as the underground railroad. That in itself is remarkable enough, but she then made it her life’s work to head back to the South and free other slaves. This is her story.
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
It didn’t go underground, and it definitely wasn’t a railroad but the Underground Railroad was a real way of helping escaped slaves move north and this novel explores that it must have been like for everyone involved.
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved” is a towering achievement.
Many Thousands Gone – Ira Berlin
Today most Americans, black and white, identify slavery with cotton, the deep South, and the African-American church. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, after almost two hundred years of African-American life in mainland North America, few slaves grew cotton, lived in the deep South, or embraced Christianity.
Nightjohn – Gary Paulsen
Set in the 1850s, Gary Paulsen’s groundbreaking new novel is unlike anything else the award-winning author has written. It is a meticulously researched, historically accurate, and artistically crafted portrayal of a grim time in our nation’s past, brought to light through the personal history of two unforgettable characters.