Slavery and Freedom

This exhibition explores the complex story of slavery and freedom which rests at the core of our nation’s shared history. The exhibition begins in 15th century Africa and Europe, extends up through the founding of the United States, and concludes with the nation’s transformation during the Civil War and Reconstruction. 

Silk lace and linen shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria, ca. 1897

Silk lace and linen shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria, ca. 1897
Gift of Charles L. Blockson, 2009.50.39

Exhibition Experience

The exhibition explores the following themes:

  • The Making of the Atlantic World (15th -18th centuries)
  • African Peoples
  • European Peoples
  • Trade and Contact
  • The Middle Passage and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
  • Colonial North America
  • The American Revolution
  • The Paradox of Liberty and The Founding of America
  • Free Communities of Color and the Limits of Freedom
  • Slavery and the Making of a New Nation
  • The Domestic Slave Trade
  • African American Freedom Struggles
  • Abolitionist Movements
  • Slave Resistance
  • Everyday Acts of Rebellion
  • Life and Work during Slavery
  • The Civil War and the Coming of Freedom
  • Emancipation and Reconstruction

Searchable Museum


The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) launched its newest digital initiative, The Searchable Museum. The project’s first digital exhibition to be shared on the site is the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition, a foundational feature from the museum’s David M. Rubenstein History Galleries, entirely reimagined for the digital space.
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