High School

HS Unit I: Free But Far From Equal: The African American Experience in Massachusetts, 1780–1863


There is a common misperception that slavery never existed or was abolished early in New England. In fact, it was legal for one human being to own another in Massachusetts from 1641 to 1783. The demise of slavery in the state was the result of courageous steps taken by black and white men and women. But the end of slavery in Massachusetts was only the first step. Activists faced a long fight against chattel slavery in the South and racial discrimination in the North.

Essential Question

What can an individual do when he/she believes that the legal status quo is unjust?


USI.31: Describe the formation of the abolitionist movement, the roles of various abolitionists, and the response of southerners and northerners to abolitionism.

Unit Lessons:

Lesson A: The Struggle for Racial Justice, 1780-1863

Organizing Idea:

A series of pivotal events marked the progress African American activists made toward achieving racial justice.

Lesson B: Men and Women, Black and White, Who Made a Difference

Organizing Idea:

While tens of thousands of northern whites were opposed to slavery, only a small minority of them believed in equal rights for African Americans. In Massachusetts, black men and women, joined by a number of white activists, mounted an effort not only to abolish slavery but to end racial discrimination.

Lesson C: The Fight for Equal Education, 1800–1855: Two Case Studies of School Desegregation

Organizing Idea:

African Americans on Nantucket and in Boston used petitions, boycotts, and lawsuits to secure the right of their children to attend integrated public schools.

Lesson D: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850: A Case Study of Resistance

Organizing Idea:

Like many northerners, Massachusetts citizens reacted with outrage to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Attempts to enforce the law further escalated tensions between the North and South.

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