Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, was a trailblazer who was enslaved in Massachusetts during the American Revolutionary War. In 1781, she sued for freedom in a Massachusetts court, citing the state constitution’s declaration of natural equality and liberty.
Her landmark case, Brom and Bett v. Ashley, resulted in a ruling that declared slavery unconstitutional in Massachusetts, setting a crucial precedent for abolition efforts and contributing to the long fight for equality and justice in America.
“Any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it — just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman — I would.”
The video also introduces James Armistead, who served as a spy for the Continental Army under the Marquis de Lafayette. Infiltrating British troops, Armistead provided crucial information to American generals, helping them win the Battle of Yorktown.
Though many Black soldiers were emancipated after the war, Armistead was re-enslaved. Via Battlefields.org, “his status as a spy meant that he did not benefit from the Act of 1783… As a result, Armistead began the process of petitioning Congress to fight for his freedom.”
“After several years without success, Armistead received help from an old comrade in arms, the Marquis de Lafayette. Upon learning that Armistead remained enslaved, Lafayette wrote a letter to Congress on his behalf. Armistead received his manumission in 1787.
“Living off his annual pension fee, Armistead moved to his own 40-acre farm in Virginia, where he married, raised a family, and lived out the rest of his life as a freeman. Armistead added Lafayette to his name as a token of gratitude and a testament to the bond the former slave and French general shared.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a legendary basketball player, author, and activist. In 2020, Abdul-Jabbar executive produced and narrated the Black Patriots special. Each story shares the courageous feats Black men and women undertook as sailors, spies, sages, and soldiers.
“I think America is a place of optimism; you had to be an optimist to think that we could defeat one of the world’s great powers and gain our independence. We would never have been able to win the Revolutionary War if it were not for the contributions of African Americans and Native Americans, and that wasn’t always something that was pointed out in the history books that I had to deal with in the 50s and 60s. So I wanted to change that dynamic, and I think that’s what this should be about.”
Related watching without a subscription: Black Patriots: Heroes of the Civil War on the History Channel.
Explore Black History Month all year long ➜
Watch these videos next:
• What is Juneteenth?
• The breathtaking courage of Harriet Tubman
• Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
• Rare 1920s films of All-Black Towns “Living the American Dream,” filmed by Solomon Sir Jones
• Noor Inayat Khan: From Pacifist to Spy