Houston Matters

How abolitionists used Independence Day to make their case in pre-Civil War America

UH History Professor Matt Clavin explores “Symbols of Freedom” and how they were used among those resisting slavery.



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With Independence Day coming and all the trappings of July 4th-related festivities in full swing and continuing over the next two days (including the hot dogs and concerts and flag-waving and fireworks), it's always important to remember what it is we're celebrating.

In his new book Symbols of Freedom: Slavery and Resistance Before the Civil War, University of Houston history professor Matt Clavin describes how enslaved Americans and abolitionist movements adopted symbols like the American flag — and the Independence Day holiday itself — in order to demonstrate the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom when so many Americans so clearly were not free.

In the audio above, Clavin shares examples with Houston Matters host Craig Cohen. The two also discuss how Independence Day and Juneteenth are perceived and celebrated today, and what we might be able to draw from the lessons of the past to help some embrace the value and importance of both holidays.

Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Craig Cohen

Craig Cohen

Executive Producer & Host, Houston Matters

Craig Cohen is the executive producer and host of Houston Matters, which airs weekday mornings at 9:00 on Houston Public Media, News 88.7 FM. Craig is a 20+ year veteran of broadcast journalism. He's spent the bulk of his career in public media, in roles ranging from programmer and manager,...

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