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Slavery & the Making of a New Nation

Photograph of Curator Mary Elliott

America’s promise of freedom is filled with contradiction. Few people understood this more clearly than enslaved and free African Americans. As the lifeblood of the new republic, slavery expanded with brutal intensity after the Revolution. The national economy relied upon slavery; the U.S. Constitution defended slavery; and the country expanded west to extend slavery. Enslaved African Americans fought for freedom through rebellion, escape, the written word, and public outcry. Despite daily denials of their humanity, enslaved people sustained a vision of freedom by embracing family, engaging in their own cultural practices, and valuing their own work. They built their own identities.