Slavery began in the United States in 1619 when the first African slave ship arrived. Although Congress outlawed the slave trade in 1808, domestic slave trading continued, and the population of enslaved people grew to nearly 4 million by 1860. The enslaved people’s brutal experiences during the transatlantic slave trade and in homes and plantations throughout the U.S. continued until the 13th amendment was passed in 1865. During the reconstruction period between 1863 and 1877, the U.S. government took steps to integrate formerly enslaved people into society and reunify the nation after the Civil War; however, the reconstruction process was difficult, and some may say unfinished. This audio story collection features stories about slavery and reconstruction, including narratives of enslaved people and their involvement in early U.S history, important figures of the abolitionist movement, efforts toward reparation, and life for free black people after emancipation.
The African Meeting House is the oldest standing black church in America. The Meeting House recently underwent a $9 million restoration to make it look like it did in 1855. This audio story looks at the re-dedication of a building that helped shape Boston’s and America’s history. Listen to hear more about the floors where Frederick Douglass walked and the place this building has in African American history.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the early 1800s, escaped as a young adult, and went on to become the most famous abolitionist of his time. A renowned author, speaker, and activist, Douglass also became an early master of what is now known as "public relations," or use of the media. Douglass purposefully used photography to depict himself as a dignified counterpoint to derogatory depictions of African-Americans. Listen to learn how Douglass’s use of photography furthered the abolitionist cause.
On the Fourth of July, many Americans celebrate gaining freedom from British rule. It is important to remember, though, that for African American enslaved people, July 4th, 1776 did not bring freedom; instead, it brought many more years of enslavement. In fact, many Black enslaved people joined the British army during the Revolutionary War, as the British had promised emancipation, or freedom, in exchange for their service. After the war, some of these brave soldiers did find freedom, but it was imperfect or incomplete. Listen to hear more about what happened to the African American enslaved people who fought for better lives during the Revolutionary War.
The first African American volunteer infantry unit of the Civil War was the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. A monumental relief sculpture in Boston honors the 54th Regiment and its commander, Robert Gould Shaw. When the regiment was crushed at the battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina, Shaw, a white man, was the first to take a bullet, making him a hero to his surviving men. Listen to hear how his sacrifice inspired sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a uniquely powerful monument.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She escaped and came back to lead hundreds of enslaved people to New York and Canada along the route of the Underground Railroad. She was also a spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Nearly 200 years after her birth, Harriet Tubman is being honored with a visitor center in her name, located near her birthplace in Maryland. The visitor center depicts her life and the Underground Railroad, including interactive images that show her journey to the north. Listen to learn more about Harriet Tubman and this inspirational and historic place.
Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States. Born in Senegal, Wheatley was taken to Boston, Massachusetts and enslaved. Since she was too weak for manual labor, Wheatley was taught to read and write instead. She published her first poem in 1767. A two-page letter by Wheatley, previously unpublished, was recently auctioned. Listen to learn more about Phillis Wheatley, the contents of this letter, and why it is so significant to scholars, historians, and collectors.
Slavery was abolished in 1865 by the 13th Amendment. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted after the American Civil War. Although slavery was officially abolished, it was selectively enforced. In an exploration of the difficult and complicated topic, a documentary film was made called 13th, which identifies mass incarceration as an extension of slavery. Listen to hear about the director’s intended audience, why she feels people are listening more closely to difficult discussions like this, and what she hopes her documentary will achieve.
In 1741, New York City was shaken by an uprising led by African slaves. New York was a British colony and had a very large slave population. After a series of fires burned homes in Manhattan, including the Governor’s house, many black slaves were imprisoned, hanged, or burned. There was a great fear that slaves were conspiring against their owners. Listen to hear about the history of the revolt and what the revolt of 1741 can tell us about society today.
Everywhere in America deals with the ongoing legacy of slavery, but one historic plantation in Louisiana is actually making an effort to memorialize that legacy from the point of view of enslaved people. When it was purchased from a petrochemical company and re-opened in 2014, the Whitney Museum became the first museum in America dedicated to telling the story of enslaved people, specifically discussing the experience of individuals who lived and worked on this historic plantation. Listen to hear how this museum aims to tell the true story of slavery, and what we as a nation can learn from it.
For some, John Brown is a venerated historical figure. For others, he is divisive. His famous raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859, meant to induce an enslaved people's rebellion, could be seen as both a righteous act in support of the liberation of enslaved people and as an act of domestic terrorism. No matter how one views Brown, it is indisputable that his raid was a major turning point as the nation drew closer to civil war. In this story, a journalist discusses Brown, going into great detail into the story of his raid and its historical legacy.
After Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, millions of enslaved people in Confederate territory were freed. This raised the question of what was to happen to them now that they were free. In Savannah, Georgia, a group of Black leaders met to discuss this very issue. This meeting led to an order to distribute land taken from the confederacy and some army mules to local Black people. But the promise was taken back. This led to the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” a phrase historically taken to symbolize the broken promises made by the U.S. government to America’s Black population in the post-war years. In this story, several historians are interviewed about this famous meeting in Savannah. They detail the historical context for the meeting, the details of the conversation, the resulting field order, and the reasons behind why the order was later taken back.
Slavery in the Americas was perpetuated through control, and slave owners often sought to limit the information and ideas their slaves could access. Many slave owners opposed teaching the Bible to enslaved people for fear it could be used as a tool of liberation and rebellion. To appease slave owners, 19th century missionaries trying to Christianize enslaved people used heavily edited versions of the Bible that left out liberation stories. Listen to hear the history behind an abridged “slave Bible” on exhibit and how people today have reacted to this historical practice.
American slavery destroyed generations of human lives, and citizens in all parts of the country were complicit. The horrors of the slave system and the damage it did are at the heart of the current debate over whether descendants of enslaved people should receive reparations, or compensation for past wrongs. Listen to hear an historian make the case for reparations, detailing the brutalities of slavery and explaining how Americans at the time rationalized a cruel national institution.
Much is known about the awful legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and, more broadly, about how European and, later, American perpetrators maintained the slave system. Much less is known, however, about enslaved people and their life experiences. Aside from slave narratives, what is known is scattered among a variety of different sources spanning the history of slavery and the slave trade. A new project has been undertaken to fill this critical knowledge gap. Listen to learn about Enslaved.org, a project that aims to document the lives and stories of enslaved people.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama commemorates the history of racial terror in the U.S., including slavery and the lynching of thousands of African Americans following the Civil War. The memorial is frank about the brutality and violence of this chapter in American history, and therefore the experience of visiting it might be painful and difficult. However, curators hope that the discomfort of the memorial might spark reflection and conversation that could help America heal. Listen to learn more about how memorializing America’s history of slavery and lynching can inform the present day.
The first shipload of enslaved people reached the American colonies four hundred years ago, in 1619. Although the event marked the beginning of a system that profoundly shaped American life, the date is likely unfamiliar to most people. The 1619 Project aims to change that by exploring how the legacy of slavery still impacts our country today. Listen to hear the journalist behind the project reveal truths about slavery that schools often do not teach and why the project has personal meaning for her.
Autoscored listening comprehension quizzes with progress monitoring by listening skill strands.Request Demo
Our lessons help you easily use the stories in your classroom. Aligned to your state standards.Request Demo
Additional features such as tiered vocabulary, speakers guide and a slower version of the audio story.Request Demo
Students get their own accounts and complete assignments online. Great for blended, flipped or 1:1 classrooms.Request Demo