Africans in America Logo

Our Common History Teacher's Guide Contents

However much black and white, slave and free seem to be polar opposites, we must see them not only as interdependent, but as having a common story and necessarily sharing the same fate.

Nathan Huggins, historian
Black Odyssey: The African American Ordeal in Slavery

At the heart of our national narrative is an American paradox: a democracy that declared all men equal, while using the enslavement and oppression of one people to provide independence and prosperity for another. The contradiction of slavery in a free society has had profound consequences on the course of American history. Africans and African Americans, enslaved and free, have played a critical role in challenging the nation to re-evaluate, again and again, the meaning of its founding documents and its commitment to freedom. The legacy of slavery continues to shape American life and society today -- for all of us.

Yet many people regard the history of African Americans as somehow separate. Africans in America, told from multiple perspectives and informed by leading-edge scholarship, illuminates the story of our common history: how Africans and Europeans together built a new nation even as they struggled over the meaning of freedom. Although topics such as the American Revolution or abolition may already be part of standard curricula, by offering a more thorough and comprehensive view of our past, Africans in America provides a new way of understanding the history that has shaped our nation and ourselves.

As historian Milton Meltzer has noted, "By conducting a dialogue with our past, we are searching how to go forward."* The series' stories of conflict, challenge, and transformation will help to inform and inspire young people. The voices from our shared past can help us to better articulate current struggles and tensions and thus create a common future.

About the Series & Web Site

In four 90-minute programs, Africans in America explores the impact of slavery on Americans -- white and black -- from the first English settlement in 1607 to the brink of civil war in 1861. The Web site is also divided into four parts corresponding to each of the series programs. Each part has its own Teacher's Guide section (linked below).


The Terrible Transformation

The English colonies bring opportunities for European settlers, including indentured servants, but for Africans -- abducted from their homelands -- the new land brings hard labor and a system of race-based slavery, enforced and protected by law.


This is the story of two American revolutions: the fight for independence from Britain and the struggle of enslaved Africans for freedom. Despite its idealistic rhetoric, the new country refuses to reconcile the fact that it is a nation of liberty built on a foundation of slavery.

Brotherly Love

As free blacks and fugitive slaves seek full participation in American democracy, a new African American leadership of entrepreneurs, preachers, and abolitionists emerges throughout the North and South. The successful revolution in Haiti inspires revolt and rebellion in the South.

Judgment Day

As the country expands west, so does slavery, even as it is challenged as never before by black and white abolitionists. Tensions mount and a polarized nation moves toward civil war.

Africans in America: Home | Resource Bank Index | Search | Shop

WGBH | PBS Online | ©