Middle Passage

The time when Africans were captured and enslaved on American plantations was one of the worst moments in our history. But it is also a story of resistance and survival.

Keeping African culture was a struggle, so it had to be done in secret. Singing in church or in the fields was allowed, so African music traditions became gospel music, the blues, and eventually forms we know today like hip hop.

Hair was the same way. Enslaved people put their hair back in traditional styles, which helped them feel connected to their culture in a secret act of defiance. And some of those styles are still alive today.

Some African hair styles from Nigeria.

Which style is your favorite, and why?

The first African American scientist, Benjamin Banneker, did the land survey for what is now Washington DC. He is shown in this drawing wearing what today would be called a “natural."

Frances Harper was the first African American woman to publish a story. In this drawing you can see that she was wearing cornrow braids.

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and became famous for his speeches and writing against the slave trade. He helped Frances Harper publish a poem in his newspaper.

Why do you think getting their writing published was so important to the fight against slavery?