Newly freed in a country with a legacy of hostility toward their kind, Black people in 19th-century America faced a barrage of attacks in the white press on their collective self-image. But with photography burgeoning, many Black Americans turned to portraiture and photography to present themselves in a more dignified light. Samantha Hill, a fellow at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, tells their story with illustrative examples from the library’s David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Education Editor

Jubilee singers at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, pose for promotional photograph, circa 1871. William L. Clements Library

How Black people in the 19th century used photography as a tool for social change

Samantha Hill, University of Michigan

Cameras played a critical role in the quest for social equality for Black Americans in the post-slavery era.

Like the best myths, the tale of Igbo Landing and the flying African seems to transcend boundaries of time and space. Victor_Tongdee/iStock via Getty Images

How a mass suicide by slaves caused the legend of the flying African to take off

Thomas Hallock, University of South Florida

The myth has become a symbol of the traumatizing legacy of trans-Atlantic slavery. It also serves as a form of resistance and healing.

Members of the Black Panther Party outside the High Point property raided by police. Sonny Hedgecock/High Point Enterprise

Why a shootout between Black Panthers and law enforcement 50 years ago matters today

Paul Ringel, High Point University

In the early hours of Feb. 10, 1971, heavily armed officers moved in on a house occupied by Black Panther activists – marking a policing trajectory toward a more militarized response to Black activism.