Curated by Amy Minervini
We invite you to explore a number of historical authors, activists, and allies through the breadth of their work in their fight against slavery and later for equal rights. We are fortunate that a number of the historical sources are available in the public domain due to copyright expiration. What this means is that we are able to access these works freely, these works that set not only the tone but the foundation for understanding some of the worst crimes in U.S. history. Some of these writers you may never heard of, and they took great risk in doing what was right: fighting for equality. Other names you will recognize — authors’, abolitionists’, allies, and activists’ names — yet you may not be familiar with the wealth of writings from each of these important people in history. This is why links to each writer’s works are provided–so that you can choose which letters, essays, and literature that you would like to read.
Many impressive authors and activists from the past are not listed below, but these writers will get you started as you explore the injustices of the past and how it informs the present. The Gutenberg site includes many texts that have now become part of the public domain and are available in plain text and html versions. Once you access the Gutenberg site for each author, click on the title of the book or book cover to take you to that particular text. For Dr. Martin Luther King’s work, the King Institute has archived his writings, also linked below.
Also included in this chapter are a few songs. Spirituals (think of song as text) were an important aspect of the lives of African Americans–expressing the significant physical and emotional toll of slavery, escape, and other adverse circumstances as well as the healing qualities of connection and hope. Some spirituals were said to include coded messages for slaves, guiding their escape. Listen to the powerful spiritual “Wade in the Water” as well as the post-Civil War freedom song “Oh Freedom” followed by letters, narratives, and literature from historic writers. The chapter ends with Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit”–meet the author and the story behind the novel and play below:
“Wade in the Water” (2019 recording), performed & produced by Cynthia Liggins Thomas+ Wade in the Water (1925 Recording)- Performed by The Sunset Four Jubilee Singers
“Oh Freedom!” – The Golden Gospel Singers
Historical WRITTEN Sources
“Strange Fruit” – the story behind ‘The Song of the Century’ by The Salt Project and WFYI
“Strange Fruit” sung by Billie Holiday and written by Abel Meeropol