Form and Content
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.