Voices of a City: Debating Liberty

1800 – 1890

Throughout the 1800s Greensboro debated the meanings of liberty and freedom.

The chasm between the rights of free and enslaved residents could not be denied, yet most of the town’s white majority accepted slavery as a Bible-ordained way of life. Resistance from African Americans and Quakers challenged the status quo.

Differences came to a head when North Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861 and entered the Civil War. Greensboro, once solidly pro-Union, now officially supported the Confederate States of America. Voices of dissent persisted. Loyal Unionists staged peace meetings. Soldiers’ wives marched against high prices. Members of the Society of Friends declined military service. African Americans, both enslaved and free, aided draft dodgers.

The end of the Confederacy in April 1865 brought thousands of soldiers to town for a surrender agreement. It brought new hopes for African Americans. And it brought new opportunities to renew the liberty debates.

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