Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

From Slavery to Freedom is a pioneer, seminal work of scholarship, chronicling the history of African Americans. First published in 1947, it recounts the narrative of a minority whose history and role in American society had hitherto been widely ignored. Continuously in print since its first appearance, the book was released in its eighth edition in 2000. The original title, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes, changed with the seventh edition (1994) to From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. The book transformed a topic that had been marginal in American history into a staple of the discipline. Moreover, it proved a catalyst for the development of the field of African American studies.

From Slavery to Freedom begins with a history of peoples and cultures of Africa. The work then examines the ways in which these peoples and cultures were transferred to and developed in various parts of the Western Hemisphere. Focusing on the United States, it examines the roles of both enslaved and free Negroes from colonial times through the twentieth century and analyses the stages of accommodation and opposition they followed regarding their sociopolitical status.

Subsequent editions have updated and expanded previous ones, progressively chronicling the ongoing saga of African Americans. Editions vary in length, organization, format, text, illustrations, and bibliographic materials. Changes in the term used to describe the book’s subject have reflected the growing interaction between the book and the movement it fostered. With the fourth edition (1974), the term “blacks” appeared as a variant for “Negroes.” The change demonstrated the extent to which growing pride and assertiveness made the movement more confident in positioning itself as the antithesis of “white.” Chapters referred to the Black Panther Party, black power, and a “Black Revolution.” The term “African Americans” came to dominance as the movement became more aware of its historic heritage and its growing minority identity and weight. Thus, the collective editions of From Slavery to Freedom have come to comprise a canon not only of scholarship and advocacy but also of the evolving historiography of the field Franklin helped found.

Illustrations have increased with the editions, adding a rich visual dimension of historic photographs, drawings, cartoons, posters, and maps. Color supplements emphasize African and African American artwork. Tables of comparative demographics have been added, together with primary source texts, providing statistical analysis and eyewitness accounts of historical events and reproducing key historic documents.


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dittmer, John. “The From Slavery to Freedom Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium, September 19-20, 1997.” The Journal of Negro History 85, nos. 1/2 (Winter/Spring, 2000): 1-5. Summarizes seven editions (1947 through 1994) of From Slavery to Freedom, discussing their scholarly and sociopolitical insights and relevance. Observes the changing context of black studies that each edition addressed.

First Person Singular: John Hope Franklin. Alexandria, Va.: PBS Home Video, 1997. One-hour public television program in which Franklin and some of his contemporaries recount events of his life in terms of challenges to and accomplishments of the movement against racial prejudice and inequality.

Franklin, John Hope. A Life of Learning. ACLS Occasional Paper 4. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, 1988. Text of the 1988 Charles Homer Haskins Lecture, which Franklin gave before the the American Council of Learned Societies. Details the development of Franklin’s intellectual and scholarly interests and their application to social and political issues and events.

Franklin, John Hope. Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Franklin recounts his life in terms of the racial prejudices he confronted and overcame and the cultural, social, academic, and political efforts he made to reverse them.

Franklin, V. P. “From Slavery to Freedom: The Journey from Our Known Past to Our Unknown Future.” The Journal of Negro History 85, nos. 1/2 (Winter/Spring, 2000): 6-12. Reviews scholarly reception of From Slavery to Freedom and details changes in the editions published between 1947 and 1994.

Hine, Darlene Clark. “Paradigms, Politic, and Patriarchy in the Making of a Black History: Reflections on From Slavery to Freedom.” The Journal of Negro History 85, nos. 1/2 (Winter/Spring, 2000): 18-21. Refers to From Slavery to Freedom as the “bible of Black history” insofar as it provided “legitimacy to, and served as an anchor for, the academic study of African Americans.”

Jarrett, Beverly, ed. Tributes to John Hope Franklin: Scholar, Mentor, Father, Friend. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003. Collection of articles by students, colleagues, family, and friends of John Hope Franklin, recounting his life in its professional and personal dimensions and testifying to his designation as the “father of black studies.”

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. “Contextualizing From Slavery to Freedom in the Study of Post Emancipation Black Women’s History.” The Journal of Negro History 85, nos. 1/2 (Winter/Spring, 2000): 36-39. Discusses the evolving representation of African American women in the various editions of From Slavery to Freedom.