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Coming of War, Coming of Freedom

Introductory photograph for welcome video

The nation’s global power came with a human cost. The country was tearing apart at the seams even in the midst of its expansion, as various factions fought to push their competing agendas. At the heart of the tension regarding the growth of the nation, the balance of political power, and access to economic opportunities was slavery. Black people continued the fight for freedom. Black and white people formed alliances and waged war on slavery. At the same time, proslavery advocates exercised their property rights as they enforced the Fugitive Slave Act.

The march toward war began in November 1860 with the election of President Abraham Lincoln. A month later, South Carolina seceded from the Union, citing slavery in its secession documents at least 18 times. In April, the Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina, declaring war on the United States.

African Americans did not stand by idle. They escaped to free states in the North, as well as to Canada and Mexico. On December 31, 1862, they watched for the midnight hour, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect providing freedom for enslaved Black people in the rebelling states and enabling Black men to enter the fight as Union soldiers. The country was in transition and freedom was on the way. The spirit and tenacity of African Americans brought themselves and the nation out of the bondage of slavery. Yet the fight continued as they reconstituted families and built communities and institutions as sources for survival, while battling against violence brought on by their increasing legal rights.