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Research Guides

Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle

This guide accompanies the Created Equal film series, hosted at MSU Libraries and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

The Abolitionists - Jan. 29

Abolitionists DVD cover

Beginning in the 1830s, several religious, social, and political reform movements swept through the United States. Among the men and women leading these reforms were abolitionists who fought to end slavery, an institution they believed to be incompatible with the founding principles of the nation. Animated by religious convictions and faith in progress, early white and black abolitionists hoped that moral persuasion would convince slaveholders to free slaves voluntarily. To this end, they promoted the establishment of anti-slavery societies and engaged in a massive print campaign to distribute broadsides and pamphlets across the nation. By the 1840s, convinced that moral persuasion would not end slavery, they turned to concerted political action. Abolitionists argued that slavery was a political and an economic as well as a moral dilemma for the nation as the institution repudiated the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In the decade preceding the Civil War, abolitionists had successfully fused their vision of a moral nation with a political ideal of progress based on a free-labor economy for many in the North. When the United States plunged into Civil War, most Americans realized that the fate of slavery rested on the outcome of the war. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the states in rebellion against the United State—a decision that became a turning point in the nation’s history. The combined actions of the President and thousands of ordinary men and women, black and white, enslaved and free, culminated in the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery throughout the US in 1865. The amendment gave legal force to the principle argument of the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal.

The Abolitionists vividly brings to life the struggles of the men and women who led the battle to end slavery. Through innovative use of reenactments, this three-episode series puts a face on the anti-slavery movement—or rather, five faces: impassioned New England newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison; former slave, author, and activist Frederick Douglass; Angelina Grimké, daughter of a rich South Carolina slaveholder; Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the enormously influential Uncle Tom's Cabin; and John Brown, ultimately executed for his armed seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The film's release in 2013 also marked the 150th anniversary year of the Emancipation Proclamation.

National Endowment for the Humanities. (n.d.). The Abolitionists. Retrieved from


Speaker Biography

Join us for a presentation on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. in the MSU Library Auditorium with guest speaker Tiffany Ruby Patterson.

Tiffany Ruby Patterson

Associate Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt University
Affiliated Faculty, Department of History; Director of Undergraduate Studies in AADS

Professor Tiffany Ruby Patterson is Associate Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies, and History, at Vanderbilt University. She has published Zora Neale Hurston and a History of Southern Life (Temple University Press, 2005), a study of early twentieth century black communities set within the history of all-black towns, maroon societies, and nationalist traditions. She is also Associate Editor of the 16 Volume series Black Women in United States History. Her work on conceptualizing the diaspora includes “Diaspora and Beyond: The Promise and Limitations of Black Transnational Studies in the United States” in Les diasporas dans le monde contemporain Un état des lieux edited by W. Berthomiere and C. Chivallon. (Paris, Pessac, Editions Karthala and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, 2006) and, co-authored with Robin D.G. Kelley, “Unfinished Migrations: Reflections on the African Diaspora and the Making of the Modern World,” African Studies Review (April, 2000, vol.11-45). She has also co-authored, with Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, “The Conumdrum of Geography, or Diaspora Studies in Europe” in Black Europe and the African Diaspora, Darlene Clark Hine, Trica Keaton and Stephen Smalls eds. (University of Illinois Press, 2008). Professor Patterson is currently working on a book entitled "Heart in Darkness: Zora Neale Hurston in Haiti."

Books from Dr. Patterson's discussion

Library Resources related to The Abolitionists