Broadsides are single-sided printed sheets of virtually any size, ranging from invitations and announcements to posters meant for public display. Most of the broadsides in the database are related to Slavery, the Abolition Movement, and the Civil War.


A distressingly large proportion of graphic images of African Americans fall into the category of caricatures in which racial characteristics are exaggerated for comic or grotesque effect. Images assigned to this category include patriotic covers produced in the early years of the Civil War and Advertising trade cards from the 1880s. Also included are representations of minstrel singers, for although the performers were white, their costumes (including blackface) and routines parodied African American music and dance, creating a form of popular entertainment based on racial caricature.


Publications issued to promote the Abolition Movement contain numerous illustrations depicting the horrors of the slave trade, the cruel and degraded conditions in which slaves lived and worked, the drama of the runaway slave and the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, in the Reconstruction period, illustrations depicted the struggle to educate and enfranchise the former slaves. Sculpture and monuments representing Slavery and Emancipation have been placed in this category.


Most of the manuscripts contained in the database comprise the papers of Robert Morris (1823-1882), African-American lawyer and anti-slavery leader. The son and grandson of Massachusetts slaves, Morris was tutored by the eminent lawyer Ellis Gray Loring, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847. The Morris papers include legal documents and information on African-American court cases, letters received from participants in the Abolition Movement, petitions to the Massachusetts Legislature for the formation of a black militia regiment, documents pertaining to Southern Slavery, and letters from African-American soldiers in the Civil War.


Printed pamphlets include By-Laws, Rules and Regulations of the African-Humane Society (Boston, 1820), a charitable organization composed of Free Blacks, and Booker T. Washington’s Address… Delivered on the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Shaw Monument… (Boston, 1897), which commemorates the African-American 54th Massachusetts Regiment that fought in the Civil War.


The political cartoons are primarily etchings, engravings, and lithographs issued as single sheets. Cartoons from the 1820s through 1840s often focused on the issue of miscegenation in connection with the Abolition Movement. Cartoons of the 1850s and 1860s focus on Slavery and its role in the political division of the country. The presidential elections of 1860 and 1864 inspired many political cartoons linking the fate of African Americans to the competing parties and philosophies of the Civil War era. The bitter politics of Reconstruction were also fodder for cartoon artists.


The majority of portraits included in the database are illustrations in books or magazines. Other portraits were issued as single-sheet prints suitable for framing or collecting in portfolios. Many of the photographic portraits are cartes-de-visite, a format popular in the 1860s and 1870s. Portraits have been assigned to subdivisions, including Slavery, as represented by Phyllis Wheatley, the 18th century Boston poet, and Free Blacks, represented by Edmonia Lewis, the 19th century sculptor. The numerous carte-de-visite portraits of fair-skinned slave children, issued during the Civil War to raise money for educational efforts of the Freedman’s Bureau, are included in the Slavery subdivision. Portraits are also subdivided by the occupations or causes that the sitter was associated with. For instance, Sojourner Truth is under Abolition Movement, and the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment are under Civil War. Late 19th century and 20th century portraits are subdivided simply under Men, Women, and Children, and group portraits may be categorized under Social Life.


This category includes pictures of buildings, particularly churches, schools, and the homes of famous people. It includes street scenes in which African Americans appear as active figures or as bystanders. Views have generally been subdivided into Urban Life, Rural Life or Social Life. Images of cotton cultivation, ox and mule carts, and Negro cabins, for instance, fall under the category of Views - Rural Life.