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The Original Abolitionists

Traveling alone, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia and became involved with the Black abolitionist movement. This module explains the role of African Americans as the first abolitionists and the impact of the Fugitive Slave Law. Students will analyze primary source photographs and prints from the era, and consider discussion prompts for more dialogue and deeper reflection.

Essential Question:

How can an individual's beliefs and actions impact a community?

Thinking Questions:

  • How did Black resistance to slavery influence white abolitionists to join the cause?
  • ​How did the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 negatively impact Harriet Tubman's work to free enslaved people and compel freedom seekers to escape to Canada?
  • What skills made Harriet Tubman an effective speaker and advocate for abolition?
  • Why was Harriet Tubman unsatisfied with her work as a public speaker as part of the northern Abolitionist Movement? What was her solution?

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.