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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Breaking the Chains
Book cover for Breaking the Chains

Centering Black voices and the narratives of enslaved people, this young adult history offers a thoroughly researched account with first-hand testimonies of how people in bondage were themselves a driving force behind their own emancipation.

Features a new introduction by Robin D. G. Kelley, black & white illustrations and photographs, and updates throughout.

Generations of American history students have grown up believing that  enslaved people accepted their lot and became attached to their enslavers, that rebellion was rare, and that liberation from slavery happened thanks to the enslavers.

Celebrated historian and children’s book author, William Loren Katz offers a thoroughly researched look at the lives of enslaved people in the United States in Breaking the Chains. From their African abductions through their brave resistance to and escape from the ships and harsh plantation life to their roles in the Civil War, those given voice here show that enslaved people themselves were a driving force behind their emancipation. 

This compelling look at history is an educational eye-opener for history buffs of all ages, and offers clarity on one of the most turbulent periods of US history. This new paperback edition features a new introduction by historian Robin D. G. Kelley. 

“Katz masterfully steers the reader step by step through the astonishing forms of resistance, both active and passive. . . . powerful and authentic.” –Publishers Weekly

We are also proud to offer a free educator's guide for Breaking the Chainsavailable to download here.

Book cover for Breaking the Chains
Book cover for Breaking the Chains

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A significant contribution to American history.

“[Breaking the Chains] will force many readers to reexamine their assumptions about American history…. Young adults will be fascinated and better informed for having experienced this book.

“Readers of this book will be reminded of just how much more has to be done to fully liberate our society, and that Katz is needed all the more since there are still chains to be broken.”

William Loren Katz (1927-2019) was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Greenwich Village in a progressive family dedicated to social justice. After serving in WWII and attending college on the GI Bill, he became a teacher in New York for many years. The author of more than 40 books, many for younger readers, he documented the often overlooked contributions of black and indigenous people through history. Through his scholarship and educational outreach, he helped to refashion social studies curriculums across the country, encouraging the histories of minorities and women to be part of American history courses rather than siloed into their own fields of study. In one of his best-known books, Black Indians, he wrote, “I have been humbled by the awesome task of rejecting bias. I have never sought bland neutrality and have consoled myself that unbiased history has yet to be written.”