Many people recognize the passage of the 13th Amendment as an end to slavery in the south. However, slavery was commonplace in all 13 colonies. Mum Bett, the slave of a Massachusetts judge, learned about the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution. After overhearing a crucial piece of the document, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
As she understood it, the phrase “all men are born free and equal” applied to her as a black person. Mum went to an attorney, Theodore Sedgwick, and together, they added another enslaved male named Brom to their team. In the end, the dynamic trio would successfully sue for both Mum and Brom’s freedom. This precedent led to many other black slaves successful suing for their freedom in other northern states.
Hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., with additional commentary from Brittney Cooper of Rutgers University, we track the journey of Mum Bett, a freedom fighter whose insight and knowledge launched the abolitionist movement.
Archival Materials Courtesy of:Associated Press
Library of Congress
Robert F. Smith
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Be Woke presents is brought to you by Robert F. Smith and Deon Taylor.
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