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The Original Abolitionists

In this module, students view a clip explaining the role of African Americans as the first abolitionists, analyze photographs and prints from the era, and consider discussion prompts for more dialogue and deeper reflection.

Essential Question:

Why was the work of the “first abolitionists” so vital to the Abolitionist Movement?

Thinking Questions:

  • Why are the freedom seekers called the “first abolitionists”?
  • Why did the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 compel freedom seekers to Canada?
  • Why was Harriet Tubman not satisfied with her work as a public speaker as part of the northern Abolitionist Movement?

Examine pp.42-43 of the manuscript, Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 7, Kentucky, Bogie-Woods.

  • What is the purpose of this oral history?
  • Make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel about this narrative.
  • What do you learn from this personal narrative that you might not learn anywhere else?
  • Why was the “organization known as the ‘Underground Railroad’ considered a “secret society”?
  • How does engaging with Bogie-Woods’s story firsthand create an emotional impact for you?

Analyze the political cartoon, Effects of the Fugitive-Slave-Law.

  • Look closely at the image and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • What is happening in the cartoon?
  • What is the author’s point of view about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?
  • Who do you think was the audience for this political cartoon?
  • What do you think is the purpose of this political cartoon?

Examine the print, Anthony Burns / drawn by Barry from a daguereotype.

  • Look closely at the image and make observations about what you notice, wonder, and feel.
  • Why do you think this print was made?
  • What do you learn about Anthony Burns from the scenes of his life surrounding his portrait?
  • What’s missing from the print that you wonder about?
  • Does this print support the abolitionist movement and the fight to end slavery? Why or why not?


  • Students will analyze the impact of antebellum reform movements on American politics and society by:
    • Evaluating the impact of social reform movements on temperance, prison, and educational reform.

    • Tracing the evolution, arguments, and impacts of the antebellum women’s movement.

    • Identifying the methods, arguments, and impacts of the abolitionist movement.

  • D2.Civ.6.6-8. Describe the roles of political, civil, and economic organizations in shaping people’s lives.

  • D2.Civ.10.6-8. Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.

  • D2.Civ.14.6-8. Compare historical and contemporary means of changing societies, and promoting the common good.

  • D2.Geo.4.6-8. Explain how cultural patterns and economic decisions influence environments and the daily lives of people in both nearby and distant places.

  • D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

  • D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.

  • RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

  • RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

  • RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

  • WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.