From Slavery to Freedom

Explore more than 250 years of African American history in the History Center’s exhibition, From Slavery to Freedom. The long-term exhibit, presented by BNY Mellon, highlights the enslavement of Africans and its impact on the American economy, the history of the anti-slavery movement, the Underground Railroad, and the impact of 19th century activism on the modern quest for civil and human rights in Pittsburgh.

Visitors to From Slavery to Freedom will immerse themselves in the evolution of the region’s African American community, embarking on a journey that begins in 18th century Africa, crosses the Atlantic Ocean on a recreated slave ship, toils in bondage on plantations of America, joins the Underground network of freedom seekers, fights for freedom in the Civil War, organizes for civil rights, and ends in 21st century Western Pennsylvania.

Explore the history of slavery in America, abolitionism, and the modern struggle for freedom using artifacts, immersive museum settings, rare documents, interactive activities, and audio/video components. From Slavery to Freedom connects the region’s earliest African residents to the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960s and discusses today’s hopes for freedom and equality. Numerous profiles of men and women from the antebellum era to the 21st century who have struggled to change the conditions of African Americans and make freedom the cornerstone of American life.

From Slavery to Freedom has won major international awards, including American Association for State and Local History, Leadership in History Award for 2013; African Diaspora World Tourism Award, Cultural Exhibit Flame Keeper for From Slavery to Freedom, for Dedicated Service in Cultural Heritage Tourism, 2013; the PA Museums Presidents and S.K. Stevens Awards for 2014.

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Visit the From Slavery to Freedom microsite for a deeper look at the research and scholarship that went in to creating this award winning exhibition.

Artifact Spotlight: Slave Shackles

Slave Shackles
Exhibit Must-Sees
  • Rare African artifacts, textiles, and tools.
  • Four life-like figures, including one of Medal of Honor winner Alexander Kelly of the 6th USCT and Martin Delany, a prominent Pittsburgh abolitionist and the highest ranking African American officer in the Union Army during the Civil War.
  • Original hardware of slavery dating from the 17th to 19th centuries.
  • Nearly 60 manumission, indenture, and freedom papers from the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives discovered by the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds Office.
  • A gourd fiddle from the 1850s, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, that was created by enslaved Africans in America.
  • Original fiber art quilt, “The Guiding Light” by quilter Ruth Ward.
  • Several 19th century paintings that depict everyday life for African slaves, including “Slaves Waiting for Sale,” by Eyre Crow, on loan from the Heinz Family Foundation and “Higher Law” by David Blythe on loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art.
  • Touch-screen interactive activities that allows visitors to explore Pittsburgh-area safe houses along the Underground Railroad.
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Artifact Gallery

History Center: Exhibit Sponsors

Presenting Sponsor

BNY Mellon


U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program
PPG Industries Foundation


The Pittsburgh Foundation
The Double Eagle Foundation
University of Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission


African American Chamber of Commerce


For more information, photos, and events related to From Slavery to Freedom, please contact Samuel W. Black, director of African American Programs at the History Center, at 412-454-6391 or