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Richard Wu
Mr. Singiser
AP US History
15 December 2017
All Star Team
For my “All Star Team,” I chose the most impactful African-Americans in the United States between the years 1500 and 1860. Due to the time constraint, all people in this list made their accomplishments before the Civil War began. In picking the following five “All Stars”, I assessed each person’s accomplishments, legacy, and influence on others and America as a whole. For my final five people, I have chosen Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner and Phillis Wheatley. Honorable mentions go to Crispus Attucks, Dred Scott, and David Walker.
Accomplishments that contributed to abolition and equal rights for African-Americans were especially important in American history and thus was a major factor in determining these five figures. However, some people in this list, such as Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, actually had little immediate impact in their accomplishments and actions, but instead became an important symbol and icon for Americans.
Personality was equally important as one’s accomplishments, and I looked especially for strong, passionate, and determined characters. On the other hand, intelligence was not a necessary characteristic to make it on this list, primarily because the majority of African-Americans in this time window did not have the chance for education and literacy and thus used their enthusiasm and determination to influence America.
All people in this list also left behind a long-lasting legacy and inspired generations of Americans, black and white, to come. I especially looked for those who profoundly impacted their opponents as well, such as those who contradicted existing Southern ideas or struck fear into the hearts of slaveowners. 
Frederick Douglass
Born in 1818, Frederick Douglass, separated from his parents as an infant, lived on a Maryland plantation with his grandmother for the first eight years of his life. At age eight, Douglass was sold to Hugh Auld, whose wife taught Douglass how to read and write. However, when Hugh Auld died eight years later, Douglass was sent back to a plantation until he escaped in 1838.
After arriving in Massachusetts, Douglass was invited to an antislavery convention and gave a stunning speech on his experiences and opinions regarding slavery. Thereafter, he became a prominent anti-slavery orator with his great intellect and eloquence, traveling around the globe voicing his abolitionist beliefs. In 1845, Douglass wrote his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which became his most famous work. He also started his own anti-slavery newspaper, The North Star, which ran for over thirteen years.
Through his brilliance and fervor, Frederick Douglass defied the belief that slaves were less superior than whites and incapable of learning. Douglass educated thousands of people around the world on the horrors and atrocities of slavery with his autobiographies and stunning speeches. Since he had firsthand experience of slavery’s brutality, he became an important voice for justice and equality. Though he was attacked multiple times both verbally and physically, Douglass’s unwavering dedication towards his cause inspired other slaves to continue fighting for their freedom. Through his thousands of eloquent speeches and articles, Douglass became arguably the most passionate and brilliant African-American of his time, easily deserving a spot on this list. 
Harriet Tubman
Born into slavery in 1822, Harriet Tubman worked tirelessly on a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland for the first twenty-seven years of her life. At around 1844, she married John Tubman, a free black. It was only until 1849 when Tubman, hearing rumors that she was about to be sold, decided to flee slavery to Philadelphia, leaving behind her husband and family.
After her escape, Tubman risked her life to lead her sister and children to freedom via the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes used by slaves to escape to the North. Over the next decade, she risked her life dozens of times to lead over three hundred slaves to freedom in at least nineteen trips to the South. She claimed to have never lost a slave and did all of this voluntarily, never being paid a single cent for her work. Soon, Tubman became the most famous Underground Railroad “conductor” and was nicknamed the “Moses of her people.”
Although Tubman’s efforts only freed a tiny percentage of the four million slaves in America, Harriet Tubman nonetheless became an immensely important symbol of freedom and courage. Other Underground Railroad “conductors” were eclipsed and looked pale in comparison to Tubman’s tremendous dedication and fervor towards her cause. With no formal education or schooling, Tubman used her pure courage and tenacity to inspire generations of African-Americans to fight for civil rights and equality. The South was equally affected by Tubman, who struck fear in the hearts of slaveowners and further polarized the question of slavery. Harriet Tubman, the perfect embodiment of an American hero, was one of the most recognizable names during the mid-19th century, placing her as one of the most impactful African-Americans pre-1860. 
Sojourner Truth
Born a slave in 1797, Sojourner Truth was heavily abused during her childhood on a New York plantation. As a child, she often had visions and heard voices, which she accredited to God. After having three of her children taken away from her, Truth fled slavery with the help of a friend in 1826.
When she moved to Massachusetts in 1844, Truth joined and spoke at the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, which advocated abolition and women’s rights. It was there where she met several leading abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, and was inspired by their unrelenting devotion and passion towards the cause of slavery. In 1850, she began regularly traveling with fellow abolitionist George Thompson throughout the Midwest, speaking to large crowds on the issues of slavery and women’s rights. At the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, Truth delivered her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Regarded as the most famous black female speaker of her time, Sojourner Truth fought passionately for abolition and women’s rights. Her casual tone and deep, resonant voice made her speeches easy to comprehend and popular among the uneducated slaves. Unlike Frederick Douglass, who used his great intellect and brilliance to persuade his audience, Truth used a simpler and more relatable tone to entice her slave audience. Since she had so much in common with her admirers, Truth inspired countless African-Americans and women alike. Celebrated as a living monument to the cause of African-American freedom, Sojourner Truth was unquestionably one of the most important African-Americans in her era, placing her as an “All Star” in this list. 
Nat Turner
Born into slavery on October 2, 1800 in Virginia, Nat Turner was heavily influenced as a child by his mother and his master’s son. Turner’s mother relayed her abolitionist feelings to him, and he learned to read and write from his master’s son. During the 1820s, he became fanatically religious and converted many nearby slaves, who nicknamed Turner “the Prophet.” 
After witnessing a solar eclipse, Turner was inspired to organize and lead a violent slave rebellion. On August 21, 1831, Turner and his seventy-five followers began their revolt, brutally killing Turner’s current master and his family. Heading towards an armory at Jerusalem, Virginia, Turner’s rebels killed over fifty white men, women and children along the way in just two days. However, Turner and his men were soon met by over three thousand angry locals and militiamen.  While the white mobs brutally slaughtered over a hundred, innocent blacks in revenge against Turner’s actions, Turner hid for six weeks before he was discovered, tried and hung on November 11, 1831.
Though only a handful of slaves participated in Turner’s Rebellion and it only lasted two days, Turner spread terror among Southern slaveowners, who feared further bloodshed and retaliation from bitter slaves. Turner truly highlighted the African-American hatred for the “peculiar institution” and ended the popular Southern belief that slaves were content with slavery. He also added fuel to the abolitionist fire in the North and increased the discord between slaveowners and abolitionists, setting the nation one step closer towards Civil War and abolition. Nat Turner became an important icon for slaves oppressed by their white masters, and his leadership and zealotry make him one of the most impactful African-Americans and a top spot on this list. 
Phillis Wheatley
Born in Africa in 1753, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and taken aboard a slave ship to Boston, Massachusetts in 1761. She was bought by John Wheatley as a servant for his wife, and the Wheatleys treated Phillis with respect and hospitality. The family soon recognized Phillis’s intellect and talent, and quickly taught her how to read and write. In just two years, Phillis was fluent in English, Greek, and Latin.
Wheatley wrote her first published poem when she was just 13, but she did not become widely known until she wrote a collection of poems titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. It was the first collection of poems published by a slave, and received acclaim from around the world. However, after the death of her owners, Wheatley, now free from the chains of slavery, quickly plunged into poverty after failing to secure a stable job in a harsh, segregated America. On December 5, 1784 at age 31, Wheatley died in poverty, having only published four poems after being set free.
Many of Wheatley’s poems supported the United States’ struggle for independence, and though she generally avoided the issue of slavery in her poems, she cleverly used the American independence movement as a metaphor for racial freedom. As the first famous black poet, Wheatley contradicted the widely held belief of black intellectual inferiority by proving that blacks too were capable of creative and complex thought. After the success of her childhood homeschooling, Wheatley also advocated for widespread education for African-Americans. At the same time, Wheatley’s sad death highlighted the cruelty and discrimination of her era. From her childhood to her death, Phillis Wheatley led a life that showcased both the potential of African-Americans and the callousness of colonial America, deserving a place on this list.Honorable Mentions
As the first martyr to the cause of American patriotism, Crispus Attucks is known not for his life, but for his death in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. His death was heavily portrayed in American propaganda and was used to showcase the depravity of the British redcoats. Attucks unintentionally spearheaded the American Revolution and turned many moderates into full fledged warmongers. However, I cannot place him in the top five most impactful African-Americans, because he did very little in his lifetime and not much else is known about him other than his death.
After failing to purchase his freedom in 1846, Dred Scott sued his owner, Irene Emerson, and lost in the state court. Emerson then sold Scott to her brother, John Sanford, and Scott sued again against Sanford this time. The case was eventually taken to the Supreme Court in the landmark case Scott v. Sandford. In the case, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that blacks were property and could not become citizens of the United States. Taney then concluded that since blacks were private property, they could not file a lawsuit and the government could not regulate slavery. This landmark decision was extremely controversial, further increasing the divide between slaveowners and abolitionists and putting the United States at the brink of the Civil War. Though Dred Scott’s case had a tremendous impact on America and added much fuel to the abolitionist fire, Scott did little else in his life and is only known for filing a case in which he had no say in it, making him not an “All Star,” but an honorable mention in this list.
Though born a free man, David Walker still despised the peculiar institution and the discrimination of African-Americans. In 1829, Walker wrote a pamphlet titled An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, which used the words of the Bible and Declaration of Independence to radically call for the complete and utter elimination of slavery. However, his incredibly radical and violent ideas backfired on him when he was denounced by both slaveowners and abolitionists alike. Only a year after its publication, Walker mysteriously died, largely believed to have been poisoned by one of his numerous enemies. His short life combined with his unpopularity significantly impaired his legacy and impact on America, making him unsuitable as one of the top five most impactful African-Americans.Works Cited
Libraries, Richard Cox ERIT University. Digital Library On American Slavery,
“Biography – Early Life.” Frederick Douglass Heritage,
Harriet Tubman – Library of Congress,
“Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree).” Women In History Ohio,
A Rebellion to Remember: The Legacy of Nat Turner,
“Phillis Wheatley.” National Women’s History Museum,

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