Slavery has been a feature of civilization for as long as civilization has existed. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt before being led to freedom by Moses. The Roman economy ran on slavery, with slaves coming from every corner of the Empire, including Europe.
In time Rome was eclipsed as a power by the Islamic world and it too had its slave trade. Barbary slaves are known to have raided coastal villages as far off as Britain and Ireland, taking the population into slavery, while the trans-Saharan trade which brought Africans up to the Middle East is the longest running slave trade, having been in existence for over 1300 years. It continues to this day.
In all this long and miserable history of slavery, just two nations stand out. In the late 1700s, abolitionists in Britain and America began to believe that slavery was morally wrong. By the 1800s, the movement had gained such a following that America fought a bloody Civil War over the matter.
Britain, for her part, set her navy to patrolling the coast of West Africa to halt the slave trade. Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans. It didn’t end there – in 1834 the British government outlawed slavery, and paid some 20 million pounds, equivalent to 17 billion today, to slave owners to compensate them for their financial loss, effectively buying the slaves’ freedom. The debt of that sum, which amounted to 40% of the government’s budget at the time, was only cleared in 2015.
It is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend how revolutionary the abolitionist movement was. Slavery was an accepted part of everyday life for millennia, but the abolitionists so believed in individual freedom that they were willing to put their wealth, and even their lives on the line to defend it – for everyone. Yet despite this heroic legacy, American children are today being taught that America was a nation founded upon slavery, by white men for the exclusive benefit of white men. This story, which comes directly from revisionist Critical Race Theory (CRT), couldn’t be further from the truth.
American children deserve to know their true heritage, as children of a nation which struggled with race relations, just like every other, but which overcame them to become a place where all can succeed. Google 'abolitionist books for children’, however, and what you’ll find is list upon list of revisionist CRT books which paint all white Americans as oppressors.
For that reason, we’ve compiled a short list of books you can read with your children to teach them an important truth: that it’s OK to be a proud American.
Harriet Tubman: Faith and Deliverance - Christine O’Hare (Heroes of Liberty)
The Heroes of Liberty series introduces children to key figures who, in their lifetimes, embodied American values such as courage, a pioneering spirit, a strong belief in personal liberty, family values, and responsibility.
As one of the most successful Underground Railroad conductors, Harriet Tubman embodies all of these values and more. Over the course of a decade she risked her life time and again to lead dozens of slaves to freedom, and she did it all with only the protection of God and her trusty gun. She went on to become a leading figure in the abolitionist movement, and to play a vital role in the American civil war.
The book makes it clear that Tubman found firm allies in white abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, and her good friend and biographer Sarah Hopkins Bradford, illustrating the truth that abolitionism was not a blacks vs whites issue, but a movement for all freedom-lovers.
The Emancipation Proclamation for Kids!: The Amazing Story of President Lincoln and His Quest to Abolish Slavery - Ian D. Fraser
The Emancipation Proclamation was a turning point in American history, paving the way for the 13th Amendment and freedom for America’s slaves. This short book gives an excellent overview of the Proclamation and its meaning, in a way that children will be able to relate to.
Discover how President Lincoln stood his ground, overcoming strong resistance to the Emancipation Proclamation; what the Proclamation accomplished; how it inspired freedom lovers to fight even harder for the abolition of slavery, and much more.
Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times - Nancy I Sanders
Like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on a plantation, only to gain freedom for himself and others by traveling the Underground Railroad.
Once free, he became a bestselling author, acclaimed newspaper editor, and a fearless orator and abolitionist. When the Civil War broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House to give council.
This book also contains 21 activities that children can do to learn more about the life and times of Frederick Douglass.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Ernest Hemingway once said: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” While that alone is enough to recommend it, Huck Finn offers an essential insight into life in the South before the abolition of slavery, and the message that society is corrupted when it accepts institutions such as slavery.
The book has gained a reputation as ‘racist’ over the last few decades. In fact, it tells the story of a down-and-out white boy who makes friends with a runaway slave, only to discover that everything he has been taught about the inhumanity of blacks is wrong. In doing so, he learns that society itself is at fault.
As one reviewer on GoodReads put it, the book encourages children to “Imagine Huckleberry on that raft on the Mississippi … Imagine him being in a conflict between the values he was taught and the humanity he discovered together with his fellow human, who happened to be a black man in distress. Which concept of life would be stronger? Imagine a situation in which you would have to make a choice between what you are taught and what you perceive.”
That ability to see things in a new and better way is the legacy of the abolition movement, and it’s that spirit that makes America such a unique country.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of a slave named Tom who, while being transported to a slave auction in New Orleans, saves the life of a young girl named Eva. The novel vividly describes the brutality of slave life, emphasizing the humanity of the slaves themselves.
Upon its release it was an instant success, especially among abolitionists in the North. It became the second best-selling book of the 19th century, second only to the Bible. It is also credited as having helped to lay the groundwork for the American Civil War – President Lincoln is said to have exclaimed “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” upon meeting Stowe. Although this is unlikely to have actually happened, the story cemented the book’s reputation as a cause of the war.
As such, while not a children's’ book, older teens may wish to read it to gain a firm grounding in American history and culture. It is also essential to understanding the abolitionist movement, and how its legacy has been warped over the last few decades.