9: How Did American Slavery End?

The long process of emancipation.

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Episode Notes

In Episode 9, the finale episode of the History of American Slavery, hosts Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie discuss emancipation. They examine how emancipation was more a process than an overnight change, and they compare the different ways it was enacted in the South and throughout the United States. They also discuss how people sought to rebuild their lives and reunite their families once they had achieved freedom from slavery. They begin the episode by remembering the life of Rose Herera (1835–unknown).

Our guests in Episode 9:

Adam Rothman is associate professor of history at Georgetown University.
Read an excerpt from Rothman’s book, Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery.

Heather Andrea Williams is the presidential professor and professor of Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Read an excerpt from Williams’ book, Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery.

Who was Rose Herera?

Rose Herera was born in the parish of Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, in 1835. Though she lived through the abolition of American slavery, Rose’s personal struggle for freedom had only just begun when emancipation made her a free women.

Described as a “good washer and ironer” in an advertisement for her sale, Rose was purchased by New Orleans dentist James de Hart around 1861. She married a free black man, George Herera, and the couple had five children together.

At the end of 1862—half a year after the Union Army entered New Orleans—James de Hart and his wife, Mary, could see the writing on the wall. They began pressuring Rose to go with them to Havana, Cuba, where slavery still prevailed. After getting in a domestic spat with a de Hart relative, Rose was put in prison. While there, the de Harts fled to Cuba and took three of Rose’s children with them.

After the war was over, Rose Herera began a legal campaign to get her family back. When Mary de Hart returned to New Orleans without the kids, she was jailed and charged with kidnapping. A court eventually ruled that Mary de Hart could return to Cuba on the condition that Rose’s children be returned to America. The family was reunited in March 1866, with the sad exception of George, who died before the children were returned.

Supplementary reading:

• The largest, most successful slave revolt in history?
• Slavery myths debunked.
What Rebecca Onion learned from making this series.

About the Show

With the help of acclaimed historians and writers, Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie explore the history of American slavery and examine how the institution came to shape our country’s politics, economy, and culture.

Don’t miss Rebecca and Jamelle’s follow-up podcast, Reconstruction.

This series was made possible by Slate Plus members. To help Slate make more projects like this, become a member now.

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