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Inside the Digital Effort to Trace the Descendants of Freed Slaves

The Freedmen's Bureau Project will give millions of African-Americans the means to explore their ancestry.

Over 1.5 million documents that record the family histories of Civil War era African-Americans will be digitized and made available online for the first time, providing African-Americans with a vast and vital resource with which to research their family history. The effort, called The Freedmen’s Bureau Project, is being spearheaded by FamilySearch International, a nonprofit geneology organization, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum.

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An Abolitionist Finally Gets His Due: Why Tommy Lee Jones Should Win on Oscar Night

Thaddeus Stevens has been trashed in classrooms, textbooks, and movies. Tommy Lee Jones' portrayal of him in "Lincoln" finally gets it right.


I'm rooting for Tommy Lee Jones to win an Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards for his riveting performance as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln. In the film Stevens is cast as the radical whom Lincoln must tame to insure passage of the 13th Amendment. This is Hollywood drama. The ardent abolitionist was as shrewd a politician as Lincoln, and needed no persuasion to support his life’s goal of ending slavery. But as a historian my hope is a win by Jones might focus important attention on the true history of Stevens.

By the time Stevens died in 1868 he had earned the appreciation of millions of slaves he helped free and further admiration as "the father of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments." Today he would be welcomed as a patriot to the White House by Barack and Michelle Obama. But until Tommy Lee Jones donned the man’s grim look, sharp wit, bulky swagger, and advanced racial views, Stevens faced a thrashing in classrooms, textbooks, and movies.

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Teaching Outside the Textbook: From 'The Abolitionists' to a Two-Term Black President

Most children—and adults—learn little if anything about Abolitionism and its many heroes.


This week PBS's The American Experience concluded "The Abolitionists," a searing three-part documentary on a fiercely committed band of white and African American freedom fighters. It took a fresh look at the anti-slavery movement, its most dramatic moments, its key figures and its amazing impact considering it was a movement which was run by hated racial and political minorities—and which welcomed women and people of color when women were told to "shut up" and slaves ordered to "do your work."

Abolitionists have largely been "unknown" in the media and popular culture for many, many decades. For the longest time children—and adults—learned little if anything about Abolitionism and its many heroes. Then in the 1960s the civil rights and Black Power movements demonstrated African American resistance to injustice was a normal part of American history and that some whites had also stepped forward to help. But for the longest time few children or adults learned anything about Abolitionism and its problems, successes and heroes

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Mock Slave Auctions: How Not to Teach Kids About America's History

When it come to educating kids about slavery, teachers should think twice about the appropriateness of their hands on learning activities.


When it comes to educating kids about the Civil War and slavery, teachers might want to think twice about the appropriateness of their experiential learning activities. According to the Washington Post, Jessica Boyle, a fourth grade teacher at Sewells Point Elementary School in Norfolk chose to teach a lesson on the Civil War by turning her classroom into a slave auction. Boyle segregated her students—black and mixed race students on one side of the room, and white students on the other. The teacher then had the white students, all around ten years old, play the role of slave master and take turns purchasing their black and biracial peers.

The incident came to light after parents, understandably, complained. The school's principal, Mary B. Wrushen, sent a letter home stating that although Boyle's "actions were well intended to meet the instructional objectives, the activity presented was inappropriate for the students." Wrushen said the lesson was not supported by the school or district and acknowledged that it "could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation."

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