Slavery Essay for Students and Children

500+ words essay on slavery.

Slavery is a term that signifies the injustice that is being carried out against humans since the 1600s. Whenever this word comes up, usually people picture rich white people ruling over black people. However, that is not the only case to exist. After a profound study, historians found evidence that suggested the presence of slavery in almost every culture. It was not essentially in the form of people working in the fields, but other forms. Slavery generally happens due to the division of levels amongst humans in a society. It still exists in various parts of the world. It may not necessarily be that hard-core, nonetheless, it happens.

Slavery Essay

Impact of Slavery

Slavery is one of the main causes behind racism in most of the cultures. It did severe damage to the race relations of America where a rift was formed between the whites and blacks.

The impact of Slavery has caused irreparable damage which can be seen to date. Even after the abolishment of slavery in the 1800s in America, racial tensions remained amongst the citizens.

In other words, this made them drift apart from each other instead of coming close. Slavery also gave birth to White supremacy which made people think they are inherently superior just because of their skin color and descendant.

Talking about the other forms of slavery, human trafficking did tremendous damage. It is a social evil which operates even today, ruining hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Slavery is the sole cause which gave birth to all this.

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The Aftermath

Even though slavery was abolished over 150 years ago, the scars still remain. The enslaved still haven’t forgotten the struggles of their ancestors. It lives on in their hearts which has made them defensive more than usual. They resent the people whose ancestors brought it down on their lineage.

Even today many people of color are a victim of racism in the 21st century. For instance, black people face far more severe punishments than a white man. They are ridiculed for their skin color even today. There is a desperate need to overcome slavery and all its manifestations for the condition and security of all citizens irrespective of race, religion , social, and economic position .

In short, slavery never did any good to any human being, of the majority nor minority. It further divided us as humans and put tags on one another. Times are changing and so are people’s mindsets.

One needs to be socially aware of these evils lurking in our society in different forms. We must come together as one to fight it off. Every citizen has the duty to make the world a safer place for every human being to live in.

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Writing Prompts about Slavery

  • 🗃️ Essay topics
  • ❓ Research questions
  • 📝 Topic sentences
  • 🪝 Essay hooks
  • 📑 Thesis statements
  • 🔀 Hypothesis examples
  • 🧐 Personal statements

🔗 References

🗃️ essay topics about slavery.

  • The history and origins of slavery.
  • Abraham Lincoln, slavery and the Civil War.
  • Slavery in Ancient Greece and Rome.
  • The role of slavery in the American Revolution.
  • The impact of slavery on the development of American capitalism.
  • The role of slave rebellions in ending slavery.
  • An essay on Thomas Jefferson’s notes on the state of Virginia.
  • The impact of slavery on American culture and society.
  • The psychological effects of slavery on enslaved individuals.
  • The role of women in slavery.
  • The impact of slavery on Native American communities.
  • Social and personal responsibility in the Movement.
  • The role of Christianity in justifying and opposing slavery.
  • The portrayal of slavery in film and media.
  • The history and legacy of slavery in the Caribbean.
  • The role of slavery in the Haitian Revolution.
  • The legacy of slavery in the criminal justice system.
  • Human trafficking research paper.
  • The intersection of slavery and capitalism in the global economy.
  • The relationship between slavery and modern-day human trafficking.
  • The role of slavery in the Civil War.
  • The impact of slavery on the development of the American South.
  • The role of education in the fight against slavery.
  • The American Civil War causes.
  • The impact of slavery on modern-day labor practices.

❓ Research Questions on Slavery

  • How did the concept of slavery develop throughout history?
  • How did the abolition of slavery impact the lives of formerly enslaved individuals?
  • What were slavery’s various forms and manifestations?
  • What were the main similarities and differences between different forms of slavery?
  • How did slave resistance ashape the decline of slavery?
  • How did the institution of slavery contribute to the development of racial hierarchies and ideologies?
  • What was the role of gender in the experience of slavery?
  • How did slavery shape the development of the plantation system?
  • How did the institution of slavery contribute to the development of colonialism and imperialism?
  • How did the legacy of slavery impact the development of race relations?
  • What were the main economic, social, and cultural factors that contributed to the decline of slavery?
  • What were the key legal battles that contributed to the abolition of slavery?
  • How did the institution of slavery contribute to the development of cultural and artistic forms?
  • How did slave resistance and rebellion shape the course of slavery in different regions?
  • How did the institution of slavery shape the economic, social, and political development?

📝 Topic Sentences about Slavery

  • The institution of slavery played a critical role in shaping the economic, social, and political development of the United States, and its legacy continues to be felt in contemporary society.
  • The legacy of slavery continues to be felt in contemporary American society, as issues of race, inequality, and social justice remain central concerns for many individuals and communities.
  • Enslaved individuals used a variety of strategies, including resistance, rebellion, and cultural expression, to assert their humanity and dignity in the face of the dehumanizing system of slavery.

🪝 Best Hooks for Slavery Paper

📍 definition hooks for essay about slavery.

  • According to the United Nations, slavery is defined as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” This definition encompasses a range of historical and contemporary forms of slavery, including debt bondage, forced labor, and human trafficking.
  • Scholars have offered a range of definitions of slavery over time, from the classical idea of a slave as a “living tool” to the more recent concept of “modern slavery” as a global phenomenon that encompasses a range of exploitative labor practices. Despite these different definitions, what remains constant is the fundamental injustice and dehumanization of individuals who are subjected to such systems.

📍 Statistical Hooks about Slavery for Essay

  • According to the International Labour Organization, there are an estimated 40.3 million people living in some form of modern slavery around the world, with the highest prevalence found in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region.
  • The end of slavery in the United States did not lead to immediate equality for African Americans, as many were subjected to sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, and other forms of institutionalized discrimination that persisted well into the 20th century.

📍 Quotation Hooks for Essay on Slavery

  • “Slavery is theft – theft of a life, theft of work, theft of any property or produce, theft even of the children a slave might have borne.” – Kevin Bales, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.
  • “Slavery was not the peculiar institution of the South. It existed in every state of the Union, and was as firmly established in Massachusetts as in Georgia.” – Frederick Douglass

📑 Best Slavery Thesis Statements

✔️ argumentative thesis on slavery.

  • Although slavery was formally abolished in the United States over 150 years ago, its legacy continues to shape the racial and economic inequalities that persist today, highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to address the systemic injustices that underlie our society.
  • The legacy of slavery in the United States has created a system of institutionalized racism that continues to perpetuate inequality and discrimination against Black Americans, necessitating both reparative justice and systemic change in order to dismantle the structures that uphold this injustice.

✔️ Analytical Thesis Samples about Slavery

  • By analyzing the narratives of enslaved individuals, this study aims to uncover the ways in which slavery impacted not only the physical bodies of those subjected to it, but also their psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being, highlighting the resilience and resistance of those who survived.
  • The legacy of slavery in the United States continues to shape the country’s social, economic, and political landscape, as evidenced by persistent racial disparities and the ongoing struggle for reparations and racial justice.

✔️ Informative Thesis Examples on Slavery

  • An exploration of the history of slavery in the United States reveals a complex and multi-layered system of exploitation, resistance, and cultural exchange that had a profound impact on American society, shaping both its economy and its cultural identity.
  • Slavery, a system of forced labor prevalent in many societies throughout history, had a profound impact on the economy, politics, and culture of the countries that practiced it, leading to long-lasting consequences for enslaved individuals and their descendants.

🔀 Slavery Hypothesis Examples

  • The prevalence of slavery in the agricultural industry had a significant impact on the development of early American capitalism.
  • The abolition of slavery in the United States was not solely the result of moral or ethical concerns but rather was driven by economic and political factors.

🔂 Null & Alternative Hypothesis on Slavery

  • Null hypothesis: There is no significant relationship between the legacy of slavery and the contemporary racial disparities in the United States.
  • Alternative hypothesis: There is a significant relationship between the legacy of slavery and the contemporary racial disparities in the United States.

🧐 Examples of Personal Statement on Slavery

  • I am acutely aware of the ways in which slavery has shaped my family’s history and the larger society. Through my studies, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the origins of this institution, its impact on individuals and communities, and the ongoing struggle for reparations and racial justice. Ultimately, I aspire to use my education to contribute to the fight against systemic racism and to promote greater social equity and inclusion.
  • I am fascinated by the ways in which different societies have dealt with the legacy of slavery and other forms of oppression. Through my studies, I hope to gain a better understanding of the cultural, economic, and political factors that contribute to the persistence of these systems, as well as the diverse ways in which individuals and communities have resisted and overcome them.
  • Shackled to the Past: The Causes and Consequences of Africa’s Slave Trades
  • Slavery and Its Definition
  • Capitalism & Slavery
  • The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa
  • Slavery and the British Industrial Revolution

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Slavery — The Long-lasting Impact of Slavery on Society


The Long-lasting Impact of Slavery on Society

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Published: Mar 6, 2024

Words: 544 | Page: 1 | 3 min read

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Economic disparities, systemic inequalities.

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hook for slavery essay

Slavery - Essay Examples And Topic Ideas For Free

Slavery involves the ownership and forced labor of one person by another. Essays on slavery could explore its historical occurrences, the impact of slavery on contemporary racial relations, or discuss the legacies and traumas of slavery. It could also delve into the various forms of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. A vast selection of complimentary essay illustrations pertaining to Slavery you can find in Papersowl database. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

What is Worse than Slavery

Worse than Slavery , by David Oshinsky tells a sensitive and graphic storyline about the South. My first impression from just looking at the book made me think, what could be worse than slavery? Is it even possible for something to be just as gruesome as slavery? To be completely honest, before reading this book, I didn't know all the ins and outs about slavery, let alone about the Parchman State Penitentiary but reading this book really opened my eyes […]

The Development of America and the Impact of Slavery

In the time that Slavery was happening before the years of the Civil War era, America had continued to develop into their own independent country from the British. Even though many factors had been involved in the growth of America, Slavery had a major role in the development of America itself. The pronounced economy, idea of liberty, and culture would develop as slavery took place in the new land. Lonnie Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian quotes, African Americans helped […]

History: the Fall of the Roman Empire

Introduction The Roman Empire is said to have crumpled when the German brutes toppled the last Emperor, Romulus Augustus in 476 and presented a more equitable type of government which was fleeting. There exist many reasons regarding the fall of the Roman Empire. Every reason seemed to be intertwined with the other. Some of those who try and explain the fall of this empire blamed the initiation of Christianity. Constantine the Great initiated Christianity in 337 AD. Some people place […]

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A History of Slavery in the United States

The number of slaves being held in the United States increased significantly during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Up to this point, slavery was primarily an institution limited to white men and few women. However, as whites became more prosperous, they began importing large numbers of free or indentured servants from Africa who were brought over as slaves for economic gain (El Hame). The public developed an increasing dislike for both these newcomers and their descendants - termed “mulattos” […]

Legacy of Slavery: from Juneteenth to Modern-Day Mass Incarceration

Some slaves new they were slaves and some didn't.Though President Abraham Lincoln put an end to slavery, slaves in Texas had no knowledge of their freedom until two and a half years later. On June 19, 1865 Union soldiers came to Galveston and declared the end of the Civil War, with General granger reading a lou a special declaration that ordered the freeing of 200,000 slaves in the state. Because of the major set back, many African Americans started a […]

The Definition of Racism

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How did Music Enhance the Experience of Slavery

African American slavery is remembered for its constant abuse and brutality towards African Americans. One aspect that is less known is the music. The music used during slavery and in the context of slavery enhanced the experience for both slave and slave master. Music in slavery came from different sources. There were many famous slave songs such as “Roll Jordan Roll” and “Follow The Drunkin’ Gourd”. As well as slaves who had musical talent, expressing their talent to their master […]

Sharecropping Better than Slavery

The historical fiction story Roll of Thunder hear my cry provides us with adequate information about sharecropping. It goes into detail about the poverty prevalent in sharecropping families and the struggle to escape its grasp. Take the quote, A tall, emaciated-looking boy popped suddenly from a forest trail and swung a thin arm around Stacey. It was T.J. Avery. His younger brother Claude emerged a moment later, smiling weakly as if it pained him to do so. Neither boy had […]

Jamaican Culture

The fashion industry is one which is evident in all areas in the world. In Jamaica, for instance, modern day fashion is encompassed within the ordinary dress code of people all over the country. Most of the clothes worn by people in Jamaica reflect a significant part of their cultural and religious beliefs. However, this fashion sense grows from their connection with one fashionably renowned African country, Ghana. Fashion design and contemporary wear in Jamaica is closely related to the […]

Slavery and Racism in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is absolutely relating a message to readers about the ills of slavery but this is a complex matter. On the one hand, the only truly good and reliable character is Jim who, a slave, is subhuman. Also, twain wrote this book after slavery had been abolished, therefore, the fact that is significant. There are still several traces of some degree of racism in the novel, including the use of the n word and his tendency […]

Modern Slavery

Imagine stopping at the red light, you see this youthful face, standing at the corner of the street. You notice her high heels and rather skimpy clothes and you immediately and consciously register her as a streetwalker. All of a sudden, all the wrongdoings in the world and lack of character notions develop in your head pertaining to her. You see her low morals screaming loud and clear, you see the whore she is. All this thought process going on […]

The American Revolution

Role of slaves and Native Americans in the RevolutionThousands of African slaves and the Native American involvement in the fight for independence against the British colonial masters. Most of them were actively involved in the forefront of the war. They refused to stand aside and took the side of the war that they felt had an upper arm in winning and of course the one that offered better terms of their freedom when the war is won. The war was […]

The Impact of Slavery

The participation of England in the slave-trade began in the early 16th century, with the country, on par with Portugal, being the most successful in the trading business until the abolishment of Slavery in the UK in 1807. The original interest of the British traders was more-so with the produce from within Africa, such as ivory and gold, rather than the people of Africa itself. The interest shifted however when the demand for labourers increased and rich British figures became […]

Why Slavery was the Engine of American Economic Growth

America views slavery in a negative perspective. It's not very known that there were some positives aspects that benefited America's economy. From the years 1619 to 1865, slavery became very important to the South because it supported the economic side of agriculture. The slave-based economy was somewhat separate from the market revolution. If it wasn't for slavery, the North wouldn't have been able to grow when industrializing the cotton textile. Cotton textile was one of the first industrially producing businesses […]

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The Issues of Slavery: Reflection in Literature

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Slave Narrative to the Black Lives Matter Movement

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Slavery and Immigration

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What is Modern Slavery?

Many corporations today rely on the forced-employment of American prison inmates as a source of inexpensive labor. Most people believe the United States abolished slavery through the enactment of the thirteenth amendment, although this article clearly states that people can be subjugated into what would otherwise be unjust working-conditions if they have been sentenced to prison-time. The 13th Amendment states: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall […]

How did Slavery Shape Modern Society?

Slavery has never been abolished from America's way of thinking. (Nina Simone) Slavery still exist till this day, from forced labor, sex trafficking, debt bondage, child soldiers, and domestic servitude. Although slavery was abolished in 1865 in the United States, slavery continues to be a worldwide issue from forced child labor, sex trafficking, and debt bondage. Thousands of people suffer every year resulting in injury, kidnapping, and even death so the question remains does slavery still exist to this day? […]

Was Slavery the Cause of the Civil War Essay

The Civil War is a war that is taught about in every school throughout the United States of America, no matter if it’s the first grade or your senior year of college, you’ve heard about it every year in school since kindergarten in some form or another. The nation split into two parts. the Union also known as “the North” and the Confederate States of American, or just “The South”. It was a war that shaped history, the nation could […]

Making Racism Obsolete

Does racism still exist? Some would say no?, but some would agree that racism is a cut that won't heal. Molefi Kete Asante is a professor at Temple University and has written many books during his career. In this analysis I will dissect Asante's work covering racism from the past, present and the future moving forward. Asante argues that America is divided between two divisions, the Promise and the Wilderness. Historically, African Americans has been at a disadvantage politically, socially, […]

Racism and Slavery

During the colonial period, Americans came up with the idea to bring African men and women overseas and use them as slaves. The effects of slavery on African Americans were enormous, and the white men got higher ranked in the hierarchy than the back men because of the colour of their skin. In order to discuss the impact that slavery has had on today’s society, you need to first address why it actually occurred. During the 17th and 18th century, […]

Why is Slavery Wrong

Allow me to express to you why slavery was, is, and always will be wrong. Slaves went through drastic living conditions, treated as less than human, and even had no rights compared to whites during this time. Slavery is one of the foulest works of the 17th century as it is made very clear through the many novels and narratives about slavery as well as the African Americans who lived through it. Slavery should have never transpired at all and […]

Slavery in the South Vs North

Whether America is being praised or looked down upon, one indisputable fact is America has done great things. Some good and some bad, but great. It is also indisputable that every decision has made America what it is today. Especially in terms of slavery. Even though it may have been one of the most unethical practices America has ever partaken in, it is also without a doubt the most contributing factor to the foundation of the US. Back when the […]

Slavery Codes and Laws

Slavery in the American history is both clear and ambiguous. Enslaved people were property owned by white people, treated as property and traded regularly. Although this marked a tragedy in the American history, the story of slavery still affects a lot of US resident till today. With the growth of slaves' numbers there emerged the need to legalize, control and keep track of all slaves in America, thus our topic for this research paper. The Slavery Laws designed to keep […]

Racism in the United States of America

Racism is a common theme seen throughout history. Throughout history several groups of people have been affected by racism. Throughout history it hasn’t been just one group but many groups if not all have experienced it. In Contemporary Literature we explored topics of racism along with sexual assault. We learned that Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior;and that throughout history there have been […]

Slavery in Beloved

Modern American culture has largely forgotten about the establishment of slavery and the disturbing, psychological pain that Africans and African Americans had to endure. The history of black people in America has been filled with traumatic experiences, which has had a large impact on their personalities and their connection with themselves and others. In order to overcome the trauma of slavery requires remembering the atrocities faced by slaves rather than forgetting them.     Toni Morrison's novel Beloved extends the examination […]

The Legacy of Slavery

Slavery is when one person owning another person. The effects that slavery has had on the nation is something many people still struggle to understand. A recent article by Rochelle Riley for USA Today describes slavery as America's open wound, the painful injury that a third of America lives with and the rest of the country attempts to ignore because, for them, it is an ancient scar and, well, hasn't it healed by now? Slavery has left a very noticeable […]

Frederick Douglass Slavery

In 1845 nonfiction book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, written and told by Frederick Douglass himself, Douglass tells the true story of the cold, harsh, unsettling conditions he was forced to experience as a slave in the 1800’s. Frederick reveals the transformation that took him from a boy slave into manhood and how he had to rely on his own intellect to make his cruel conditions just even the slightest bit better. This autobiography gives insight into an […]

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How To Write an Essay About Slavery

Understanding the history and impact of slavery.

Before you begin writing an essay about slavery, it is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of its history and impact. Slavery, the practice of owning and exploiting humans as property, has existed in various forms throughout history and across cultures. In your essay, focus on a specific era or type of slavery, such as the transatlantic slave trade, ancient slavery in Rome or Greece, or modern forms of slavery. Research the socio-economic and political contexts in which slavery existed, the life and treatment of slaves, and the long-term impacts on societies. Understanding the complexities and nuances of slavery will provide a solid foundation for your essay.

Formulating a Thesis Statement

A strong essay on slavery should be centered around a clear, concise thesis statement. This statement should present a specific angle or argument about slavery. For example, you might focus on the economic reasons behind the transatlantic slave trade, the psychological effects of slavery on individuals and communities, or the resistance and rebellion by slaves. Your thesis will guide the direction of your essay and ensure that your analysis is focused and coherent.

Gathering and Analyzing Historical Evidence

To support your thesis, gather historical evidence from credible sources. This may include primary sources like slave narratives, letters, and legal documents, or secondary sources like scholarly articles and history books. Analyze this evidence critically, considering the context, perspective, and purpose of each source. Use this evidence to support your arguments and provide depth to your analysis of slavery.

Discussing the Legacy and Contemporary Relevance

In your essay, discuss the legacy of slavery and its contemporary relevance. This could include its impact on racial relations, economic structures, and cultural practices. Consider how the history of slavery continues to influence current social and political issues. This discussion will add depth to your essay, connecting historical analysis with present-day implications.

Concluding Your Essay

Conclude your essay by summarizing the main points of your analysis and restating your thesis in light of the evidence presented. Your conclusion should tie together your arguments and emphasize the significance of understanding slavery's history and impact. Reflect on the broader implications of your findings, such as the importance of historical memory and the need for ongoing dialogue and education about slavery.

Reviewing and Refining Your Essay

After completing your essay, take the time to review and refine it. Ensure that your arguments are clearly articulated and supported by evidence. Check for grammatical accuracy and ensure that your essay flows logically from one point to the next. Consider seeking feedback from peers, teachers, or historians to further refine your essay. A well-written essay on slavery will not only reflect your understanding of the topic but also demonstrate your ability to engage critically with complex historical subjects.

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hook for slavery essay

Introductory Essay: Slavery and the Struggle for Abolition from the Colonial Period to the Civil War

hook for slavery essay

How did the principles of the Declaration of Independence contribute to the quest to end slavery from colonial times to the outbreak of the Civil War?

  • I can explain how slavery became codifed over time in the United States.
  • I can explain how Founding principles in the Declaration of Independence strengthened anti-slavery thought and action.
  • I can explain how territorial expansion intensified the national debate over slavery.
  • I can explain various ways in which African Americans secured their own liberty from the colonial era to the Civil War.
  • I can explain how African American leaders worked for the cause of abolition and equality.

Essential Vocabulary

Slavery and the struggle for abolition from the colonial period to the civil war.

The English established their first permanent settler colony in a place they called Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Early seventeenth-century Virginia was abundant in land and scarce in laborers. Initially, the labor need was met mostly by propertyless English men and women who came to the new world as indentured servants hoping to become landowners themselves after their term of service ended. Such servitude was generally the status, too, of Africans in early British America, the first of whom were brought to Virginia by a Dutch vessel in 1619. But within a few decades, indentured servitude in the colonies gave way to lifelong, hereditary slavery, imposed exclusively on black Africans.

Because forced labor (whether indentured servitude or slavery) was a longstanding and common condition, the injustice of slavery troubled relatively few settlers during the colonial period. Southern colonies in particular codified slavery into law. Slavery became hereditary, with men, women, and children bought and sold as property, a condition known as chattel slavery . Opposition to slavery was mainly concentrated among Quakers , who believed in the equality of all men and women and therefore opposed slavery on moral grounds. Quaker opposition to slavery was seen as early as 1688, when a group of Quakers submitted a formal protest against the institution for discussion at a local meeting.

Anti-slavery sentiment strengthened during the era of the Revolution and Founding. Founding principles, based on natural law proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and in several state constitutions, added philosophical force to biblically grounded ideas of human equality and dignity. Those principles informed free and enslaved blacks, including Prince Hall, Elizabeth Freeman, Quock Walker, and Belinda Sutton, who sent anti slavery petitions to state legislatures. Their powerful appeal to natural rights moved legislators and judges to implement the first wave of emancipation in the United States. Immediate emancipation in Massachusetts, gradual emancipation in other northern states, and private manumission in the upper South dealt blows against slavery and freed tens of thousands of people.

Slavery remained deeply entrenched and thousands remained enslaved, however, in states in both the upper and lower South , even as northern leaders believed the practice was on its way to extinction. The result was the set of compromises the Framers inscribed into the U.S. Constitution—lending slavery important protections but also preparing for its eventual abolition. The Constitution did not use the word “slave” or “slavery,” instead referring to those enslaved as “persons.” James Madison, the “father” of the Constitution, thus thought the document implicitly denied the legitimacy of a claim of property in another human being. The Constitution also restricted slavery’s growth by allowing Congress to ban the slave trade after 20 years. Out of those compromises grew extended controversies, however, the most heated and dangerous of which concerned the treatment of fugitive slaves and the status of slavery in federal territories.

The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 renewed and enhanced slavery’s profitability and expansion, which intensified both attachment and opposition to it. The first major flare-up occurred in 1819, when a dispute over whether Missouri would be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state generated threats of civil war among members of Congress. The adoption of the Missouri Compromise in 1820 quelled the anger for a time. But the dispute was reignited in the 1830s and continued to inflame the country’s political life through the Civil War.

hook for slavery essay

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum by Tom Murphy VII, 2007.

hook for slavery essay

“U.S. Cotton Production 1790–1834” by Bill of Rights Institute/Flickr, CC BY 4.0

Separating the sticky seeds from cotton fiber was slow, painstaking work. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin (gin being southern slang for engine) made the task much simpler, and cotton production in the lower South exploded. Cotton planters and their slaves moved to Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama to start new cotton plantations. Many planters in the Chesapeake region sold their slaves to cotton planters in the lower South. This created a massive interstate slave trade that transferred enslaved persons through auctions and forced marches in chains and that also broke up many slave families.

In 1831, in Virginia, a large-scale slave rebellion led by Nat Turner resulted in the deaths of approximately 60 whites and more than 100 blacks and generated alarm throughout the South. That same decade saw the emergence of a radicalized (and to a degree racially integrated) abolitionist movement, led by Massachusetts activist William Lloyd Garrison, and an equally radicalized pro slavery faction, led by U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.

The polarization sharpened in subsequent decades. The Mexican-American War (1846–1848) brought large new western territories under U.S. control and renewed the contention in Congress over the status of slavery in federal territories. The complex 1850 Compromise, which included a new fugitive slave law heavily weighted in favor of slaveholders’ interests, did little to restore calm.

A few years later, Congress reopened the Kansas and Nebraska territories to slavery, thereby undoing the 1820 Missouri Compromise and rendering any further compromises unlikely. The U.S. Supreme Court tried vainly to settle the controversy by issuing, in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the most pro-slavery ruling in its history. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, a rising figure in the newly born Republican Party, declared the United States a “house divided” between slavery and freedom. In late 1859, militant abolitionist John Brown alarmed the South when he attempted to liberate slaves by taking over a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He was promptly captured, tried, and executed and thereupon became a martyr for many northern abolitionists.

Watch this BRI Homework Help video: Dred Scott v. Sandford for more information on the pivotal Dred Scott decision.

hook for slavery essay

Leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman, and James Forten all worked for the cause of abolition and equality.

As the debate over slavery continued on the national stage, formerly enslaved and free black men and women spoke out against the evils of slavery. Slave narratives such as those by Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northrup, and Harriet Jacobs humanized the experience of slavery. Their vivid, heartbreaking accounts of their own enslavement strengthened the moral cause of abolition. At the same time, enslaved men and women made the brave and dangerous decision to run away. Some ran on their own, and others used the Underground Railroad, a network of secret “conductors” and “stations” that helped enslaved people escape to the North and, after 1850, to Canada. The most famous of these conductors was Harriet Tubman, who traveled to the South about 12 times to lead approximately 70 men and women to freedom. Free blacks faced their own challenges. Leaders such as Benjamin Banneker, James Forten, David Walker, and Maria Stewart spoke out against racist attitudes and laws that sought to limit their political and civil rights.

hook for slavery essay

This map shows the concentration of slaves in the southern United States as derived from the 1860 U.S. Census. The so-called “Border states”—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and after 1863, West Virginia—allowed slavery but remained loyal to the Union. Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

By 1860, the atmosphere in the United States was combustible. With the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in November of that year, the conflict over slavery came to a head. Since Lincoln and Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery and called it a moral evil, seven slaveholding states declared their secession from the United States. And in April 1861, the war came. The next five years of conflict and bloodshed determined the fate of enslaved men, women, and children, and of the Union itself.

Reading Comprehension Questions

  • What actions were taken to oppose slavery in the colonial period and Founding era?
  • Why did the Constitution not use the words “slave” or “slavery”?
  • The invention of the cotton gin
  • The Mexican-American War
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford
  • The election of Abraham Lincoln as president
  • How did formerly enslaved and free black men and women fight to end slavery?

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hook for slavery essay

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Ohio State University Press, 2020

Contributor Bio

Caleb j. gayle, more online by caleb j. gayle, how to make a slave and other essays, by jerald walker, reviewed by caleb j. gayle.

Well-meaning people dedicate their lives to naming things, but perhaps one of the hardest things to name—and subsequently describe—is the experience of those who are marginalized by society. Usually, we try to find simple, linear stories, and choose over-generalized narratives instead of the messy, honest truth in attempts to describe the Black experience. But this often runs the risk of monolithically categorizing that experience. When taking on the task of explaining how one is made a slave, a linear, concise book cannot be written. It must be messy, composite, and complex. Written at multitudes, Jerald Walker’s book How to Make a Slave and Other Essays meets the challenge.

In this collection that received a finalist placement for the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Walker provides greater clarity for what it might mean to be a Black man in America by dismissing the linearity and simplicity that naming Blackness often produces. We cannot be surprised by the clear, yet complex, multitudinous approach Walker takes—in part, the book is dedicated to James Alan McPherson, who encouraged Walker as a student to complicate how he wrote about Black folks and Black folks’ lives. McPherson was Walker’s professor while Walker studied at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and Walker remembers an important and challenging moment with McPherson in the essay “Dragon Slayers,” which sheds light on his writing style today.

On the day that his writing was up for critique in workshop, Walker—like many writers in the same position—awaited his peers’ feedback nervously. Instead, that day McPherson chimed in himself. Discussing Walker’s piece with the class without naming Walker as its author, McPherson states of its protagonist: “This person raps about the ghetto [ … ] but he doesn’t live in the ghetto. He lives in a wealthy white suburb with his wife and daughter. His daughter attends a predominantly white, private school.” Stunned, Walker, who truly did grow up in the “ghetto,” listens as McPherson’s critique grows sharper: “What some gangster rappers are doing is using black stereotypes because white people eat that stuff up. But these images are false, they’re dishonest. Some rappers are selling out their race for personal gain [ … ]. That’s what this writer is doing with his work.”

Walker shows us just how irate and righteously indignant he became, only for McPherson to continue and provide him with a lesson that all writers need to hear: “Stereotypes are valuable [ … ] But only if you use them to your advantage. They present your readers with something they’ll recognize, and it pulls them into what appears to be familiar territory, a comfort zone. But once they’re in, you have to move them beyond the stereotype. You have to show them what’s real.” When Walker asks what is real, McPherson replies succinctly, but with a difficult, implicit challenge: “You.”

The task of the memoirist—and the particular challenge for writers like Walker, like me, writers of color—is to offer the reader pathways to an authentic understanding of who we are. This can mean acceding to stereotypes, or radically abandoning them. Rarely does it involve some straight path that is both smooth and clear. No, the task, which Walker accomplishes deftly, is to guide readers through the messy compilation of experiences that shape “you.”

Walker’s voice isn’t gracious, but it is graceful and clear, never sparing the reader from the critical perspective that will help them unpack and deconstruct his experiences. In the essay “Balling,” Walker uses the crossover move, and the stereotype of the supposedly preternatural basketball skills of Black folk, to demonstrate that our lives and experiences are built on the basis of improvisation. In “Unprepared,” Walker takes us on an unexpected drive with a man who repeatedly propositions Walker—even going so far as to expose himself to him, which forces him to interrogate his perspectives on sex and sexuality. In “Feeding Pigeons,” Walker takes his readers to a night of drunkenness that reveals the odd distinctions between platonic and romantic relationships with both men and women. Throughout its pages, the collection asks us to consider how our varied life experiences shape our identities.

With his push to give the reader who he truly is, Walker is able to meet the charge of the collection’s titular essay: to explain “how a man was made a slave” and “how a slave was made a man.” Not by appealing to the stereotypes that his childhood might have given him the opportunity to do, but by giving people the “you” that McPherson asked for. It’s not neat, nor should it be. As he explains sex and sexuality, interpersonal interactions, love and loss, violence, alcoholism or addiction, we see Walker. With this literary feat, the potency of the Black monolith dies another death: a meaningful and required death.

Perhaps the responsibility we all have, Black or not, is to do what McPherson encouraged Walker to do. “Less time needs to be spent on the dragons,” as McPherson told Walker, the mega-problems that seem to typify the Black community as in a persistent struggle. Instead, let us spend “more on our ability to forge swords for battle and the skill with which we’ve used them.” This book is the ultimate testament to the fact that Walker has honed his skills, not by over-focusing on the dragons but instead by adeptly fashioning the tools to fight those dragons. We need to do the same.

Editor’s note: an essay published in How to Make a Slave and Other Essays , “ The Designated Driver ,” originally appeared in Harvard Review 50.

Published on February 9, 2021

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Engaging Students with History: The Power of Slave Narratives

Middle school students connect with history by writing stories from a slave’s perspective.

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the checklist, worksheets, and rubric for this project at the end of this article.

In an Oakland, California, classroom papered with learning goals and student work, history teacher Lacy Lefkowitz relinquishes her podium to eighth graders presenting their latest project. After a little nudging from peers, a student named Jessica starts reading, quickly, in the voice of a character she created, a woman who was born in Africa, kidnapped by fellow Africans, and sold into slavery in North America. Jessica's classmates, fidgety at first, become silent as she reads (in historical dialect):

"One day Massa complained he needed more money so he sold my husband and kids then he laughed in my face. I got so mad I spit in his face... I's aint neva got so beaten so bad. Massa James put lemon juice in all my cuts. I cried out so loud in pain for John, Abdul, momma, my kids. I cried out for me!"

A Lesson in Empathy

These students at Claremont Middle School have just completed their slave narrative project, a unit that's been taught at the school by eighth-grade history and English teachers for three years. Students write from the point of view of slaves -- those who were born into slavery in the U.S. or brought on slave ships from Africa. By teaching students about slavery through these narratives, the Claremont teachers engage their students in writing by personalizing the study of slavery.

"The slavery unit requires more historical empathy than any other unit, I think," says project creator and history teacher Matt Smith. "So much of the eighth-grade curriculum revolves around debates about slavery and the onset of the Civil War, and I think it's inappropriate to jump into those discussions without first giving a voice to the people who were injured. Their stories are, to me, really the stories of America."

Lefkowitz finds that students understand history more intimately through this assignment: "Just reading doesn't affect them in the same way. They can read about slaves chained on a slave ship, but when it's their character that they're writing about, they gain historical empathy."

Setting Up the Project

Students do the slave narrative project jointly in both history and English class, and teachers scaffold the assignment . In history class, students choose from two dozen topics to brainstorm , such as the Middle Passage (the longest section of the trans-Atlantic trade triangle), field work, beatings, and biracial children. English teachers take on the bulk of the project from there, helping students complete character sketches and make storyboards to outline their narratives.

After writing multiple versions, students add details and descriptions , and edit each others' first drafts before writing a final narrative. They turn their narratives into attractive books with drawings, which they share with each other. Both the history and English teachers grade the project with a rubric .

Asking Tough Questions

Smith finds that students bring many questions on the topic of slavery: Why are people racist? Why did slave owners choose Africans to enslave? Why does slavery exist? How could it go on in the US for so long? Claremont's student population is predominantly African-American, but Lefkowitz recommends that teachers prepare to address race head-on, no matter their student population.

To complement the slave narratives, Claremont history teachers lead a mini-unit on racism featuring excerpts of writings by Howard Zinn and Winthrop Jordan to move conversations "beyond a second-grade understanding of racism," says Smith. Students learn about American slavery in the textbook and by doing dialectical journals with two films, Ships of Slaves and Unchained Memories .

The Lesson's Impact

In English classes, students read slave narratives from the American Antebellum but also more contemporary periods. "That makes a difference," says English teacher Kathryn Williams. "Students realize this is something that could happen to anyone at any time, not just one point in history."

The project certainly makes an impact on students; more turn in slave narratives than any other project during the year, according to Lefkowitz (close to 75 percent of her students this year turned the narratives in on time). It addresses many state standards, and allows for different types of learners to show what they've learned.

Even though the topic made him sad, an eighth grader named Kevin discovered through this project that he was a writer. "I usually have trouble reading and writing. If the teacher tells me to write an essay, usually I write only half a page," he says. But he wrote a four-page slave narrative. He explained, "The project made me want to write."

Fellow student Nia says of doing this assignment, as an African-American, "I took it so, so seriously." Studying and writing about what slaves did to avoid being killed or separated from their families made a big impression. "I learned what it was like to work in the fields, ten hours a day, with no food, even if you were pregnant," she says. "When they were auctioned, their mouths were opened and they were touched like they were not human, like pieces of meat."

Students don't shy away from events as brutal as rape and murder in their narratives. But those are historical realities, and Nia, for one, thinks other teachers should consider doing this project in their classes. "Children should learn what really happened. They should know."

Lisa Morehouse , a former teacher, is now a public-radio journalist and an education consultant in San Francisco.

The Slave Narrative Project downloads are also available here:

Slavery Book Checklist 72KB

Slavery Book Pre-write 110KB

Character Sketch Template 36KB

Description and Detail Worksheet 77KB

Peer Revision and Editing Worksheet 97KB

Slave Narrative Project Rubric 66KB

Home / Essay Samples / History / Slavery

Slavery Essay Examples

How slavery caused the civil war.

The American Civil War, a defining moment in the nation's history, was rooted in complex political, economic, and social factors. However, at its core, the Civil War was fundamentally driven by the institution of slavery. In this essay, we will delve into the role of...

The Jim Crow Laws: a Legacy of Slavery

The Jim Crow Laws, a system of racial segregation and discrimination that prevailed in the United States from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, are inextricably linked to the history of slavery. This essay explores the historical context, development, and impact of Jim...

Frederick Douglass: Learning to Read and Write

Frederick Douglass, a prominent African-American abolitionist, vividly documented his journey from slavery to freedom in his autobiographical narrative. A significant chapter of his narrative recounts his determination to learn how to read and write despite the oppressive circumstances of slavery. This essay explores Douglass's pursuit...

Analysis of Frederick Douglass' Passages on the Impact of Slavery

Throughout Frederick Douglass rhetorical analysis essay Douglass is referring to the women at his new plantation, or his new “home”. He portrays the idea that slavery truly does have a very impactful and large effect on everyone who witnesses it or is involved with it,...

Animalistic Effect in 'Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas'

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Fredrick Douglass argued that slave institutions dehumanize slaves as well as slave owners. Slave institutions were founded on the basis of cruelty, brutality, and getting the most labor from a human as possible....

Truth About Slavery in 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass'

In the book titled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I agree with Frederick Douglass that slavery is damaging to the slave owners. In the Narrative, Douglass says that slave owners have too much power and slaves have too little power. Douglass also says...

Frederick Douglass: Escape from Slavery

To start with this is Frederick Douglass escape from slavery essay in which we will analyse his biography using the book review. Frederick Douglass is a well known figure in African American history notable for his courage and desire to be a free man. Douglass...

Should the Electoral College Be Abolished

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Military Bearing: Why We Need to Talk About It

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Learning How to Read and Write: Frederick Douglass' Life

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