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Network to Freedom: Exploring the Agency, Resistance, & Resilience of North Carolina’s Freedom Seekers

Program Recording

Click here to access the program recording.

Click here to view the resources and links shared in the chat box during the live program.

Lesson Plans

Numerous lesson plans are available for integrating these topics and themes into the middle and high school classroom.  Click here for accompanying lesson plans.

Program Description

For enslaved people throughout the history of North Carolina and America, freedom was not something that was simple or gained overnight. And while we often think of slavery in only a binary (that people were either enslaved or they were free) below the surface of the brutal and inhumane period of chattel slavery, there was more complexity as well as community. From the enslaved North Carolinians who sought and/or defined freedom for themselves, to those free and enslaved who assisted freedom seekers in escaping, to the rich and complex communities that were formed between enslaved and free people, a wholly accurate understanding of this period must include attention to the various ways Black people strove to experience varied concepts of freedom through their individual and collective agency, resistance, and resilience.

In this program hosted by the NC African American Heritage Commission, Carolina K-12, and NC Historic Sites, in partnership with the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and others, we explore the rich history of topics such as: North Carolina’s Underground Railroad network, the rich Maritime communities free and enslaved Blacks formed, maroon settlements, the role of North Carolina’s rivers in seeking freedom, the assistance of Quaker communities to freedom seekers, and the role of Black people in aiding and supporting one another throughout both enslavement and freedom. (Click here to review the agenda from this May 6, 2021 program.)

As noted by Dr. Hasan Jeffries, “Trapped in an unimaginable hell, enslaved people forged unbreakable bonds with one another. Indeed, no one knew better the meaning and importance of family and community than the enslaved. They fought back too, in the field and in the house, pushing back against enslavers in ways that ranged from feigned ignorance to flight and armed rebellion. There is no greater hope to be found in American history than in African Americans’ resistance to slavery.” North Carolina’s rich and complex history of freedom seeking, in both overt and subtle ways, is testament to such hope.

Associated Readings

  1. Learning for Justice’s Preface to Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery, by Dr. Hasan Jeffries:
  2. Learning for Justice’s Introduction to Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery, by David Blight:
  3. The Shores of Freedom: The Maritime Underground Railroad in North Carolina, 1800-1861:
  4. River Runaways, from Our State Magazine:
  5. We are Five Africans Seeking Freedom, by David Cecelski:
  6. The Spirits of Freedom:
  7. Secret passageways and freedom roads: Remnants of the Underground Railroad in NC:
  8. In Greensboro’s New Garden Woods, remnants of Underground Railroad live in the soil:
  9. Free Blacks, Quakers & the Underground Railroad in North Carolina:
  10. Historic Edenton’s Harriet Jacobs Walking Tour Brochure:
  11. Black Spirituals as Poetry & Resistance:
  12. Tips for Tackling Sensitive History & Controversial Current Events in the Classroom:
  13. Review the following websites:
  • National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (NTF): The mission of NTF is to honor, preserve and promote the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight, which continues to inspire people worldwide. Through its mission, the NTF helps to advance the idea that all human beings embrace the right to self-determination and freedom from oppression.
  • NC African American Heritage Commission’s Freedom Roads Trail: Freedom Roads is a statewide trail system that recognizes the places (from rivers to towns) that were crucial to the efforts of freedom seeking throughout the state, as well as the freedom seekers and their allies, whose stories testify to the indomitable spirit found in thousands who strove to be free and aided them in success.

Additional Resources

Hosts & Funders

This workshop was hosted by the NC African American Heritage Commission and Carolina K-12 at UNC-Chapel Hill, in partnership with NC Historic Sites and the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, as well as the National Park Service Underground Network to Freedom.

The workshop and curricular materials are provided with a grant from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), funded by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed throughout this event and the materials provided do not necessarily reflect the views of ASALH or the Department of the Interior.