Three people who changed the course of black history

Three stories of people whose lives changed the course of black history.

James Somerset – the slave who began the end of slavery in the UK

In 1771, a 19-year-old slave James Somerset became the centre of a legal battle that began the end of the slave-trade. At this time, the slave-trade was legal in the UK and there were 15,000 slaves in England.

The writ of ‘habeas corpus’ was used as a case by abolitionist Granville Sharp to challenge the legality of slavery. It challenged the law to see slaves as human beings, rather than property.

The case was fought in court and Somerset ultimately won his freedom.

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield summarised: “The state of slavery is of such a nature so odious that the English Common Law could never accept it.”

This ruling sparked the beginning of the end of slavery in England.

In our clip from Strange Case of the Law, barrister Harry Potter meets historian Arthur Tolkington to explore the story of James Somerset.

James Somerset and the case that began the end of slavery
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Harriet Tubman – who risked everything to win freedom from slavery for herself and others in 19th century USA

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in the state of Maryland, USA, in 1820 and grew up working in the cotton fields.

In 1849 she risked her life when she escaped from her owners.

By crossing the border to Pennsylvania – a state where slavery was abolished in 1780 - she was free.

She joined a network known as 'The Underground Railroad' and helped more than 70 other slaves to escape.

She became prominent in the abolition movement and helped the Union during the American Civil War.

In 2016, it was announced that she will be the face of the $20 bill from 2020.

This clip is a dramatisation of Harriet Tubman’s early life from the series True Stories.

The Life and Work of Harriet Tubman
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Rosa Parks - whose refusal to give up her seat was a key point in the Civil Rights movement

Born in 1913, Rosa Parks grew up in a farm in Montgomery, Alabama. She experienced the segregation of black and white people in American society such as separate public water fountains, separate public toilets and churches.

It was also the law that black people sat at the back of the bus and gave up their seats to white people.

One day, on December 1 1955, after her day at work, Rosa refused to give up her seat – even after police were called to ask her to move.

On Monday 5 December she was found guilty of breaking the law and fined.

News of her protest spread and lead to the Montgomery bus boycott where hundreds of black people refused to take city buses. This lasted for 381 days and the government changed the law about segregation on buses.

This was a key point in the Civil Rights movement which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This clip is a dramatisation of Rosa Park’s life from the series True Stories.

The Life and Work of Rosa Parks
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