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The Abolitionists

150th Anniversary,

Emancipation Proclamation


January 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, an order by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 which freed all slaves in states not under Union control. Two years later, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to abolish slavery was adopted. Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film “Lincoln” recounts the President’s efforts in January 1865 to persuade members of the House of Representatives to pass the amendment, which had already been approved by the Senate. 

Though Lincoln’s actions led to the formal abolition of slavery, contemporaries of his had dedicated their lives to the cause in the previous decades. Some of these abolitionists are well known to us, while others history has largely overlooked. “The Abolitionists,” a new PBS documentary premiering on January 8, tells the story of one particular group of individuals who were strikingly different.

PBS writes: “Called by many names, the abolitionists tore the nation apart in order to make a more perfect union. Men and women, black and white, Northerners and Southerners, poor and wealthy, these passionate anti-slavery activists fought body and soul in the most important civil rights crusade in American history. What began as a pacifist movement fueled by persuasion and prayer became a fiery and furious struggle that forever changed the nation.

“Bringing to life the intertwined stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown, The Abolitionists takes place during some of the most violent and contentious decades in American history, amid white-hot religious passions that set souls on fire, and bitter debates over the meaning of the Constitution and the nature of race. The documentary reveals how the movement shaped history by exposing the fatal flaw of a republic founded on liberty for some and bondage for others, setting the nation on a collision course. In the face of personal risks — beatings, imprisonment, even death — abolitionists held fast to their cause, laying the civil rights groundwork for the future and raising weighty constitutional and moral questions that are with us still.”​

President Abraham Lincoln, November 8, 1863. Photo | Wikipedia Commons.

An untitled watercolor by Henry Louis Stephens (c. 1863) of a man reading a newspaper with headline "Presidential Proclamation / Slavery."

Photo | Wikipedia Commons.

​Events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation have occurred across the country and are continuing during 2013, including at the National Archives, which displayed the original, very fragile document for three days.

The William Lloyd Garrison Collection at Brandeis University​

The Archives & Special Collections Department at Brandeis University is fortunate to house a collection of papers relating to Boston’s famed radical white abolitionist and newspaper publisher William Lloyd Garrison. The William Lloyd Garrison collection consists of lecture and editorial manuscripts, handwritten lecture notes, and numerous letters from Garrison, his family, and his many supporters (including numerous well-known nineteenth-century reformers). Written before, during, and after the American Civil War, these papers illuminate Garrison’s tireless efforts to abolish slavery and inequality in the United States. Read more at the Archives blog>


The African American Newspapers Collection
Among the various newspapers in the collection is Frederick Douglass's The North Star, which he ran out of Rochester, New York, during the antebellum years.

Newspaper Opinions, from Abraham and Mary Lincoln

This profile of three Civil War-era newspapers looks specifically at The New York Tribune, The Charleston Mercury, and The New York Herald, examining their partisan efforts to inform and persuade readers.

Voices from the Days of Slavery

Housed at the Library of Congress are seven hours of recorded interviews that took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom.

Found Voices: Slave Narratives Pt 1
This clip from a Nightline episode features the 1930s recordings of the voices of former slaves.

Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives

This is a 2003 HBO documentary film based on the 1930s slave narratives at the Library of Congress. Actors interpret and narrate from the originals.

​Timeline of Slavery from 6800 B.C. to the present

(Free the Slaves)


Emancipation Proclamation, Leland-Boker Autograph Edition, June 1864.

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