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Exhibit Reveals History of Slavery in New York City

Although slavery was abolished in New York City in 1827, residents remained divided on the issue through the Civil War. NewsHour correspondent Gwen Ifill talks with historian James Horton about slavery's impact on the future of New York.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    There are many myths about slavery: that it was confined only to the Civil War era; that it only occurred in the South; that all Northerners were abolitionists.

    History tells another story, much of it now on view at the New York Historical Society in the exhibit New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War. The exhibit showcases the contributions of more than 200 scholars, historians, and academics. And it continues through next September.

    James Oliver Horton, a professor of American studies and history at George Washington University and historian emeritus at the Smithsonian, is this exhibit's chief historian. He joins me now.

    Welcome, professor Horton.

    JAMES OLIVER HORTON, Historian Emeritus, National Museum of American History: Well, thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, it turns out slavery was actually abolished in New York City in 1827, but it took many more decades for that to be real.

  • JAMES OLIVER HORTON:

    No, actually, the first gradual emancipation law went into effect for New York in 1799. That law said that a person born after the 4th of July in 1799 had to spend a number of years in slavery. And it differed, depending upon whether you were a male or female, but in the 20s, 20, 25 years in slavery.

    But, then, in 1827 — again, on the 4th of July — a law went into effect that said, slavery is over. So, as of the 4th of July, 1827, slavery was officially abolished in New York City and State.