It becomes us to make public our joy,” declared Black abolitionist George Lawrence in an 1813 speech celebrating the anniversary of the legal end of the transatlantic slave trade in the United States. Lawrence described the anniversary as marking “a partial restoration of one of those rights most congenial to the human heart.” 

Throughout the 19th century, Black New Yorkers returned again and again to the question of how to “make public . . . [their] joy” in the face of a “partial restoration” of basic human rights. Celebrations of victories against slavery were complicated by the unfinished nature of freedom for Black Americans, which came incrementally. 

This guide explores three particular moments in this complex history, highlighting the joyousness of these commemorations while exposing students to the perilous political contexts in which these moments were embedded. 

Use the Library's Resources in Your Lessons

This curriculum guide draws from materials in our research collections, including primary source documents accessible on our online databases and within the NYPL Digital Collections. Please note: some of the resources below are only accessible with a New York Public Library card.

This work is part of the Library’s overall commitment to our branch patrons and education programs, led by the Merryl H. and James S. Tisch Director of The New York Public Library. Major support for educational programming is provided by Merryl H. and James S. Tisch.

The Center for Educators and Schools is supported in part by a generous grant from the Hearst Foundations.