Famous Black Slave Facts

Statue of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass Memorial in Harlem N.Y.

Introduction - Famous Black Slaves

Over the centuries that black slavery existed in the American colonies and later the United States of America millions of poor human beings were denied their freedom and suffered great hardships. Most of their names have been lost to history, however there are others who have become famous for various reasons. On this page we list a few famous black slaves with information about how they became famous and the important impact many of them had on black slavery history. There are links to pages of interesting facts about many of these slaves written for both kids and adults.

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List of Famous Black Slaves

Frederick Douglas (1818 - 1895)

The words of Frederick Douglas are powerful. From his autobiographies to his lectures, he moved people with his vivid details of life as a slave. After escaping slavery he went on to become an outspoken abolitionist, women's right advocate and, after the Civil War, he held several political positions. His name even appeared on a presidential ballot, making him the first African American to be nominated for Vice-President.

Harriet Tubman (1820 - 1913)

Of all of the Underground Railroad "conductors" during the slave era in the United States, Harriet Tubman is the most well known. After fighting for her own freedom, she went on to free over 300 slaves and made over 19 trips to the south, putting her own life on the line. Her heroism and commitment to her cause to get as many slaves to freedom as possible earned her the nickname "Moses".

Sojourner Truth (around 1797 - 1883)

Sojourner Truth was an African American abolitionist most famous for her passionate speech titled "Ain't I A Woman?" in which she blatantly challenges antifeminist views. Born into slavery around 1797, she was sold and resold a number of times before finally escaping from her last slave owner, John Dumont. After facing several hardships during the early years of her newfound freedom, she went on to become an abolitionist leader and spokesperson for women's rights. Until her death in 1883 she also fought for prison reform, universal suffrage and property rights.

William Harvey Carney (1840 - 1908)

Carney, like many African Americans born in the mid-1800s, was born into slavery. He was eventually set free and went on to become a soldier during the American Civil War. Carney quickly moved up in rank to sergeant and on July 18th of 1863 took part in the Union Army's assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Almost forty years after he gallantly fought in the Battle of Fort Wagner, he became the first black soldier ever granted the Medal of Honor.

Dred Scott (1795 - 1858)

Born into slavery, Dred Scott, had lived in free territories and free states. This was the basis for an extended court battle in which he sued and lost many times trying to win his freedom. The first of many trials was held in 1847 and ten years later the United States Supreme Court finally heard his case. In a crushing blow to enslaved men and women throughout the country, the court ruled that African Americans were not considered citizens but were property, and therefore could not sue. This became known as the Dread Scott Decision and fueled the fire for the Civil War which followed shortly after. The family of Scott's first owner, Peter Blow, would eventually pay his legal fees, buy him, and set him free. Unfortunately, his freedom was short lived as he died just nine months later.

Solomon Northup (1808 - 1863)

Solomon Northup is best known as the primary author of the memoir, "Ten Years a Slave" based, in part, on the letters he'd written while enslaved. He was introduced to the horrors of slavery when he was captured and sold into slavery at the age of 33. Until that point he had lived life as a free man. His popular book now serves as an important historical document and was made into an Academy Award winning film in 2013.

Nat Turner (1800 - 1831)

Nat Turner made history when he led a violent slave rebellion which ended in the deaths of 55 white slave owners and their families in 1831. It was the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history. Backlash from the rebellion resulted in the deaths of 100 - 200 African Americans, including Turner who was executed, and brought about even harsher conditions for slaves. To some Turner had become a hero, to others he was a villain, his actions did bring attention to the inhumanity of slavery.

York (1770 - 1822)

York, born around 1770, grew up a slave to William Clark, of Lewis and Clark, and went on to become an invaluable part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From 1804 through 1806 his knowledge, skills, bravery and loyalty made him an invaluable member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition which explored the western United States. He earned Clark's respect during the expedition and continues to earn the respect of millions of Americans for his outstanding contributions to the expedition.