Great Movies for Teaching US History: Slavery

This series on Great Movies for Teaching U.S. History, from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War, will publish on consecutive weekdays through May 2. It features films and documentaries inspired by historical events in the United States, including information about their educational value, ratings and appropriateness for children, and how well they represent the time periods covered.

Slavery 1750s-1870

Slavery was apart of American culture before America even existed. Enslaved people brought over from Africa and other countries were forced to work, and through their efforts America grew. While slavery was prominent in the colonies before the 1750s, several films feature stories about historical figures.

Roots 1750s-1870

Based on the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, the characters are based on Haley’s own ancestors and their experiences throughout American history. Roots is an eight-part miniseries that portrays an accurate history of slavery and continues until the post-civil war.The story follows a family for more than a century and how slavery has affected many generations of Africans and African American people. The story begins in Africa, when a young boy is captured and sold into slavery. It’s the story of individual lives, but reflects what many African families faced during these times.

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The movie portrays many grim realities and features mature themes.

12 Years a Slave: 1841-1843

Based on the book by Solomon Northrup, this film depicts Solomon’s life starting with when he was a successful free African American living in New York, and follows his life when he was deceived and sold into slavery, his struggles as a slave, and what he had to endure to survive. The movie depicts a variety of slave owners and their mentality towards slaves. Some treated slaves as people and with respect, while others thought of them as property. Read more on the movie here.

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The movie portrays many grim realities and can be tough to watch for younger audience.  The series features extremely mature themes.

The Underground Railroad: mid 1800s

Aggregating journals, documents and historians’ accounts from the Underground Railroad Foundation, the History channel released this documentary retelling the story of decades of efforts that went into freeing slaves from the South. The show delves into the history, the tactics and the people who made the Underground Railroad possible. The show explains the roots of slavery, and how and why it originated in the colonies.  The Underground Railroad reached its height in the mid 1800s, but this story reminds viewers that before that time slavery was legal in the 13 colonies. In just 43 minutes, the History channel does an excellent job of retelling slavery’s story in states.

A Woman Called Moses: 1849-1860s

The made for TV miniseries features Harriet Tubman, the most famous woman known to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad. The film follows her beginnings as a slave, and how she was able to escape. It portrays several of her expeditions to travel back to the South in an effort to free hundreds more enslaved people. Harriet Tubman is remembered as one of the bravest women in history, who continued her abolitionist efforts until she passed away at the age of 93.

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