John Quincy Adams
As a diplomat and one of the nation’s ablest secretaries of state, Adams unintentionally helped open new territories to slavery in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. After serving for one term as president, he played a critical role in nurturing antislavery sentiment in the North, even though he never considered himself an abolitionist. As a Representative in Congress, he led a nine-year campaign to overturn the “Gag Rule,” under which the House automatically tabled antislavery petitions. In the face of accusations of treason and assassination threats, he succeeded in making slavery subject to parliamentary debate. He also argued successfully on behalf of the Amistad rebels, African blacks who had staged a revolt on Spanish slave ship Amistad and were tried for mutiny and murder. He convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that the rebels’ enslavement was illegal under international law and that African captives had the same right to use violence to win their freedom as did the American colonists during the Revolution. Perhaps most importantly, he developed the idea that a president, under his powers as commander-in-chief, had the authority to abolish slavery.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASadams.htm
After growing up as a slave to a wealthy Pennsylvania lawyer and political office holder, Allen and his family were sold in the early 1770s to a Delaware farmer. Both Allen and his master underwent religious conversion, and his owner, convinced that slavery was sinful, let Allen and a brother to purchase their freedom. During the early 1780s, Allen worked as a wagon drive, shoemaker, and sawyer, and also preached to audiences of blacks and whites.
During the mid-1780s, he became minister to a small group of free blacks in Philadelphia. Along with Absalom Jones, he founded the Free African Society of Philadelphia, the first African American mutual aid society.
In 1787, after whites churchgoers relegated African American worshippers to a balcony, Richard Allen organized the country’s first independent African American church. “Mother Bethel” became one of the leading African American community institutions in Philadelphia, and it served as a catalyst for the development of black schools, mutual aid societies, and petition campaigns against the slave trade and slavery. In 1816, he established the first African American religious denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The next year, he organized an African American convention in Philadelphia, which vigorously protested against colonization.
For additional biographical information, see:
For an essay on Allen, see:
James Henretta, “Richard Allen and African-American Identity”
Picture credit: http://www.africana.com/tt_125.htm
Born in Maryland around 1780, Ball toiled as a slave in Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia, and managed to escape twice. In 1837, he published his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Charles Ball.
For excerpts from his autobiography, see:
Henry Bibb (1815-1854)
Born to a white father and a slave mother in Shelby County, Ky., Bibb was held in slavery in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and escaped in 1837. In 1851, he moved to Canada, where he and Josiah Henson established a colony for escaped slaves. He also founded Canada's first African American newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive.
For excerpts from The Narrative of the Life and Adventures of an American Slave (1849), see:
Birney was one of many Southerners to discover that it was hopeless to work for slave emancipation in the South. He had been born to a wealthy Kentucky slaveholding family, and like many members of the South’s slaveholding elite, was educated at Princeton. After graduation, he moved to Huntsville, Ala., where he practiced law and operated a cotton plantation. In Huntsville, he developed qualms about slavery and began to work as an agent for the American Colonization Society. Soon, his doubts about slavery had grown into an active hatred for the institution. He returned to Kentucky, emancipated his slaves, and in 1835 organized the Kentucky Anti-Slavery Society.
In Danville, a committee of leading citizens informed him that they would not permit him to establish an antislavery newspaper in the city. When Birney announced that he would go through with his plans, the committee bought out the paper’s printer and the town’s postmaster announced that he would refuse to deliver the newspaper. In a final effort to publish his paper, Birney moved across the Ohio River into Cincinnati, where a mob destroyed his press while the city’s mayor looked on.
Birney helped found the Liberty Party in 1840, which called upon Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, end the interstate slave trade, and cease admitting new slave states to the Union. The party also sought the repeal of local and state “black laws” which discriminated against free blacks. The party nominated him for president in 1840 and again in 1844. Although he gathered fewer than 7100 votes in his first campaign, he received 62,000 votes four years later, and captured enough votes in Michigan and New York to deny Henry Clay the presidency.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASbirney.htm
Henry “Box” Brown
Born into slavery in Virginia in 1815, Brown escaped by having himself nailed into a small box and shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia. An orator for the American Anti-Slavery Society, he published a narrative of his life in 1851.
For excerpts from the Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown (1851), see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASbox.htm
A devout, Bible-quoting abolitionist and Vermont native who believed he had a personal responsibility to overthrow slavery, John Brown first gained public noteriety in Kansas in the mid-1850s. After receiving word that Senator Charles Sumner had been assaulted on the Senate floor, he said "something must be done to show these barbarians that we, too, have rights." He announced that the time had come "to fight fire with fire" and "strike terror in the hearts of proslavery men." On May 24, 1856, he and six companions dragged five proslavery men and boys from their beds at Pottawatomie Creek, split open their skulls and cut off their hands. A war of revenge erupted in Kansas, which left 200 dead.
As early as 1857, Brown had begun to raise money and recruit men for an invasion of the South. He told his backers that only through insurrection could this "slave‑cursed Republic be restored to the principles of the Declaration of Independence."
His plan was to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and arm slaves from the surrounding countryside. His long‑range goal was to drive southward into Tennessee and Alabama, raiding federal arsenals and inciting slave insurrections. Failing that, he hoped to ignite a sectional crisis that would destroy slavery.
At 8 o'clock Sunday evening, October 16, 1859, Brown led a raiding party of approximately 21 men toward Harpers Ferry, where they captured the lone night watchman and cut the town's telegraph lines. Encountering no resistance, Brown's raiders seized the federal arsenal, an armory, and a rifle works along with several million dollars worth of arms and munitions. Brown then sent out several detachments to round up hostages and liberate slaves.
But Brown's play soon went awry. During the night, a church bell began to toll, warning neighboring farmers and militiamen from the surrounding countryside that a slave insurrection was under way. Local townspeople arose from their beds and gathered in the streets, armed with axes, knives, and squirrel rifles. Within hours, militia companies from villages within a 30‑mile radius of Harpers Ferry cut off Brown's escape routes and trapped Brown's men in the armory. Twice, Brown sent men carrying flags of truce to negotiate. On both occasions, drunken mobs, yelling "Kill them, Kill them," gunned the men down.
Brown's assault against slavery lasted less than two days. Early Tuesday morning, October 18, U.S. Marines, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart, arrived in Harpers Ferry. Brown and his men took refuge in a fire engine house and battered holes through the building's brick wall to shoot through. A hostage later described the climactic scene: "With one son dead by his side and another shot through, he felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand and held his rifle with the other and commanded his men ... encouraging them to fire and sell their lives as dearly as they could."
Later that morning, Colonel Lee's marines stormed the engine house and rammed down its doors. Brown and his men continued firing until the leader of the storming party cornered Brown and knocked him unconscious with a sword. Five of Brown's party escaped, ten were killed, and seven, including Brown himself, were taken prisoner.
A week later, Brown was put on trial in a Virginia court, even though his attack had occurred on federal property. During the six‑day proceedings, Brown refused to plead insanity as a defense. He was found guilty of treason, conspiracy, and murder, and was sentenced to die on the gallows.
The trial's high point came at the very end when Brown was allowed to make a five‑minute speech. His words helped convince thousands of Northerners that this grizzled man of 59, with his "piercing eyes" and "resolute countenance," was a martyr to the cause of freedom. Brown denied that he had come to Virginia to commit violence. His only goal, he said, was to liberate the slaves. "If it is deemed necessary," he told the Virginia court, "that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done."
Brown's execution was set for December 2. Before he went to the gallows, Brown wrote one last message: "I ... am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." At 11 a.m., he was led to the execution site, a halter was placed around his neck, and a sheriff led him over a trapdoor. The sheriff cut the rope and the trapdoor opened. As the old man's body convulsed on the gallows, a Virginia officer cried out: "So perish all enemies of Virginia!"
Across the North, church bells tolled, flags flew at half‑mast, and buildings were draped in black bunting. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared Brown to Jesus Christ and declared that his death had made "the gallows as glorious as the cross." Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow predicted that Brown's execution "will be a great day in our history; the date of a new Revolution,‑‑quite as needed as the old one." William Lloyd Garrison, previously the strongest exponent of nonviolent opposition to slavery, announced that Brown's death had convinced him of "the need for violence" to destroy slavery. He told a Boston meeting that "every slaveholder has forfeited his right to live," if he opposed immediate emancipation.
Prominent Northern Democrats and Republicans, including Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, spoke out forcefully against Brown's raid and his tactics. Lincoln expressed the views of the Republican leadership, when he denounced Brown's raid as an act of "violence, bloodshed, and treason" that deserved to be punished by death. But Southern whites refused to believe that politicians like Lincoln and Douglas represented the true opinion of most Northerners. These men condemned Brown's "invasion," observed a Virginia senator, "only because it failed."
For a brief biography with links to documents, see:
Picture credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1550.html
William Wells Brown(1814-1884)
One of the nation's first African American novelists and historians, Brown was born in Lexington, Va., and raised in Missouri. After serving as a slave driver, he was hired out to transport slaves to the New Orleans slave market, but managed to escape. He published a narrative of his life in slavery in 1847. His novel Clotel (1853) offers a fictional reworking of the story that Thomas Jefferson fathered several children by a slave mistress.
For excerpts from Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave (1847), see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASbrownW.htm
Born into slavery in Kentucky in 1808, the daughter of a slave woman and an unknwon white man, she published her Autobiography of a Female Slave in 1857.
For excerpts from her autobiography, see:
Henry Clay Bruce (1836-1902)
The Virginia-born Bruce published his autobiography, Twenty-Nine Years a Slave, in 1895.
For excerpts form his autobiography, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASbruce.htm
Annie L. Burton
Born into slavery in Alabama in 1858, Burton published an autobiography, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days, in 1909.
For excerpts from her autobiography and her biography of Abraham Lincoln (1909), see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASburton.htm
Mary Ann Cary (1823-1893)
After Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, her family migrated to Canada, where she edited the Provincial Freeman, an antislavery newspaper. In 1869 she became the first female student at Howard University in Washington.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAWcary.htm
Maria Weston Chapman (1806-1885)
A founder of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, she was one of three women elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Committee in 1839, an action that led conservatives (including Arthur and Lewis Tappan) to leave the organization and form the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
For additional information, see http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASweston.htm
Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)
A reformer, editor, and prolific writer, Child was one of the first American women to support herself as a writer. She won acclaim for Hobomok (1824), a romantic novel about love between an Indian brave and a white maiden, and other historical romances. But her popularity declined after she was converted to antislavery and attacked laws prohibiting racial intermarriage.
For excerpts from her writings, see
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASchild.htm
The leader of the Amistad rebels, Sengbe Pieh had been born in Sierra Leone around 1815 and was kidnapped into slavery in 1839. While he and other Africans were being transported from the Havana and to the Cuban sugar fields, he led a rebellion on the schooner Amistad and ordered two surviving whites to take them back to Africa. The whites secretly sailed northwest at night and after 63 days at sea the ship was intercepted off the coast of Long Island.
Imprisoned in New Haven, Conn., the captives were put on trial for mutiny and murder, but were ultimately freed when the Supreme Court ruled that their enslavement had violated international treaties. In 1842, Cinque returned to Sierra Leone, where he discovered that his wife and three children had been killed. He later became a missionary.
For excerpts from press accounts of the Amistad affair, see:
The Kentucky-born Clarke escaped from slavery in 1841, reached Canada, and published his Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clarke in 1845.
For excerpts from his narrative, see:
A North Carolina-born Quaker, Coffin later moved to Indiana where he reportedly helped 3,000 slaves escape to freedom. His Reminiscences (1876) helped disseminate the popular image of the Underground Railroad as a carefully constructed line through which conductors guided fugitives from slavery.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAScoffin.htm
Pastor of New York's African American Presbyterian church, the Delaware-born Cornish founded (with John Russwurm) Freedom's Journal, the first African American newspaper in New York, and later edited the Colored American.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAScornish.htm
In 1832, Crandall, a Quaker schoolteacher in Canterbury, Conn., sparked a major controversy by admitting Sarah Harris, the daughter of a free black farmer, into her school. After white parents withdrew their students from the school, Crandall tried to turn the institution into a school for the education of free blacks. Hostile neighbors broke the school’s windows, contaminated its well with manure, and denied students seats on stagecoaches and pews in church. In 1833, after the state made it a crime to teach black students who were not residents of Connecticut, state authorities arrested Crandall. She was tried twice, convicted, and jailed. After her release, a local mob attacked her school building with crowbars and attempted to burn the structure. It never reopened.
The story of Prudence Crandall’s school is told at:
For a brief biographies, see:
Picture credit: http://www.plgrm.com/Heritage/women/pictures/CRANPR03.HTM
Following passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, many African Americans were convinced that they had two choices: to submit to continuing prejudice and discrimination or to leave the country. Delany gave vivid expression to the feelings of black anger and disillusionment. He had been born into slavery in western Virginia, but his father purchased his family's freedom and moved them to Pittsburgh. In 1843, Delany began publishing an antislavery newspaper, and later joined with Frederick Douglass to publish The North Star. He then studied medicine at Harvard, worked as a doctor in Pittsburgh, and in 1852 published The Condition, Emigation, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, which examined why white Americans oppressed African Americans. Convinced that blacks could never attain true equality in the United States, he organized the National Emigration Convention in 1854 to explore emigration to Central, Haiti, and Africa's Niger Valley. During the Civil War he seved as a major in the Union army, and during Reconstruction served in the Freedmen's Bureau and as a judge in South Carolina.
For quotations from Delany's writings, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASdelaney.htm
One of America's most brilliant authors, orators, and organizers and the nineteenth century's most famous black leader, Douglass was the first fugitive slave to speak out publicly against slavery. On the morning of August 12, 1841, he stood up at an antislavery meeting on Nantucket Island off the Massachusetts coast. With great power and eloquence, he described his life in bondage. As soon as he finished, the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison asked the audience, "Have we been listening to a thing, a piece of property, or to a man?" "A man! A man!" five hundred voices replied. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the pioneering feminist, vividly recalled her first glimpse of Douglass on an abolitionist platform: "He stood there like an African prince, majestic in his wrath, as with wit, satire, and indignation he graphically described the bitterness of slavery and the humiliation of subjection."
Douglass (who was originally named Frederick Bailey, after a Muslim ancestor, Belali Mohomet) had personally experienced many of slavery's worst horrors. Born in 1818, the son of a Maryland slave woman and an unknown white father, he was separated from his mother almost immediately after his birth, and remembered seeing her only four or five times before her death. Cared for by his maternal grandmother, a slave midwife, he suffered another cruel emotional blow when, at the age of 6, he was taken from his home to work on one of the largest plantations on Maryland's eastern shore. There, Douglass suffered chronic hunger and witnessed many of the cruelties that he later recorded in his autobiographies. He never forgot seeing an aunt receive forty lashes with a cowskin whip or a cousin bleeding from her shoulders and neck after a flogging by a drunken overseer.
Temporarily, Douglass was rescued from a life of menial plantation labor when he was sent to Baltimore to work for a shipwright. Here, his mistress taught him to read, until her husband declared that "learning would spoil the best" slave in the world. Douglass continued his education on his own. With 50 cents he earned blacking boots, Douglass bought a copy of the Columbian Orator, a collection of speeches that included a blistering attack on slavery. This book introduced him to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution and inspired him to perfect his oratorical skills.
At fifteen, his master's death resulted in Douglass's return to plantation life. Resentful at the loss of the relative freedom in a city, Douglass bitterly complained about the plantation's food and refused to call his owner "Master." To crush Douglass's rebellious spirit, his owner hired him out to a notorious "slave breaker" named Edward Covey. For seven months, Douglass endured abuse and beatings. But one hot August morning he could take no more. He fought back and defeated Covey in a fist fight. After this, he was no longer punished.
In 1836, Douglass and two close friends, John and Henry Harris, plotted to escape slavery. When the plan was uncovered, Douglass was thrown into jail. But instead of being sold to slave traders and shipped to the deep South, as he expected, Douglass was returned to Baltimore and promised freedom at the age of 25 if he behaved himself.
In Baltimore, Douglass worked in the city's shipyards. Virtually every day, white workers harassed him and on one occasion beat him with bricks and metal spikes, shouting "kill him--kill him...knock his brains out." Eventually, Douglass's owner gave him the unusual privilege of hiring himself out for wages and living independently. During this period of relative freedom Douglass joined the East Baltimore Improvement Society, a benevolent and educational organization, where he met Anna Murray, a free black woman whom he later married.
In 1838, after his owner threaten to take away his right to hire out his time, Douglass decided to run away. With papers borrowed from a free black sailor, he boarded a train and rode to freedom. To conceal his identity, he adopted a new last name, Douglass, chosen from Sir Walter Scott's poem, "Lady of the Lake."
After escaping from slavery, he adopted a new last name--Douglass--chosen from Sir Walter Scott's poem "Lady of the Lake," to conceal his identity; settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where in worked in the shipyards; and began to attend antislavery meetings. In August 1841, he was asked to speak to a convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. It was then that he became the first fugitive slave to speak on behalf of the abolitionist cause.
As a travelling lecturer, Douglass electrified audiences with his first-hand accounts of slavery. His speeches combated the notion that slaves were content and undermined belief in racial inferiority. When many Northerners refused to belief that this eloquent orator could possibly have been a slave, he responded by writing an autobiography that identified his pervious owners by name. Fear that his autobiography made him vulnerable to kidnapping and return to slavery led Douglass to flee to England. Only after British abolitionists purchased his freedom for $711.66 did he return to the United States States.
Initially, Douglass supported William Lloyd Garrison and the radical abolitionists, who believed that moral purity was more important than political success. The radicals questioned whether the Bible represented the word of God because it condoned slavery; withdrew from churches that permitted slavery; and refused to vote or hold public office. Douglass later broke with Garrison, started his own newspaper, The North Star, and supported political action against slavery. He was an early supporter of the Republican party, even though its goal was to halt slavery's expansion, not to abolish the institution. Following the Civil War, the party would reward his loyalty by appointing him marshall and register of deeds for the District of Columbia and minister to Haiti.
Douglass supported many reforms including temperance and women's rights. He was one of the few men to attend the first women's rights convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, and he was the only man to vote for a resolution demanding the vote for women.
Nevertheless, Douglass's main cause was the struggle against slavery and racial discrimination. In the 1840s and 1850s, he not only lectured tirelessly against slavery, he also raised funds to help fugitive slaves reach safety in Canada. During the Civil War, he lobbied President Lincoln to make slave emancipation a war aim and organize black regiments. Declaring that "liberty won by white men would lack half its lustre," he personally recruited some 2,000 African American troops for the Union army. Among the recruits were two of his sons, who took part in the bloody Union assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina in July 1863, which resulted in more than 1,500 northern casualties--but which proved black troops' heroism in battle.
Douglass never wavered in his commitment to equal rights. During Reconstruction, he struggled to convince Congress to use federal power to safeguard the freedmen's rights. Later, as the country retreated from reconstruction, Douglass passionately denounced lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement. Toward the end of his career, he was asked what advice he had for a young man. "Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!" he replied. Despite old age, Douglass never stopped agitating. He died in 1895, at the age of 77, after attending a women's rights meeting with Susan B. Anthony.
It is a striking historical coincidence that the year of Douglass's death brought a new black leader to national prominence. Seven months after Douglass's death, Booker T. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute, delivered a speech in Atlanta, Georgia, which catapulted him into the public spotlight. The "Atlanta Compromise" speech called on African Americans to end their demands for equal rights and instead strive for economic advancement. "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the finger," Washington declared, "yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." Washington's philosophy of "accommodation" with segregation represented the polar opposite of Douglass's goal of full civil and political equality.
Picture credit: http://www.frederickdouglass.org/
For brief biographies, see:
For excerpts from The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881) and other writings, see:
For excerpts from his speeches, see:
An Ibo born in Nigeria around 1745, Equiano was just 11 years old when he was kidnapped into slavery. He was held captive in west Africa for seven months and then sold to British slavers, who shipped him to Barbados and then took him to Virginia. After serving a British naval officer, he was sold to a Quaker merchant from Philadelphia who allowed him to purchase his freedom in 1766. In later life, he played an active role in the movement to abolish the slave trade. He published his autobiography, The Life of Olaudah Equiano the African, in 1789.
For excerpts from his autobiography, see:
James Forten (1766-1842)
One of the leaders of Philadelphia's African American community, Forten served in the navy during the Revolution, been captured by the British, and had refused free passage to England, crying out: “I am here a prisoner for the liberties of my country; I never, NEVER, shall prove a traitor to her interests.” In 1814, mobilized 2,500 black volunteers to defend Philadelphia against a threatened British invasion.
Folllowing the Revolution, Forten, a sailmaker, became one of the most successful African Americans in the United States, accumulating $100,000 worth of property. Even though his business depended on white patronage, in 1797 he signed a petition to Congress against the slave trade.
Although he had assisted Paul Cuffe (a Quaker sea captain who was the son of a former slave), who transported the first free blacks to west Africa, he later led opposition to the American Colonization Society. In August, 1817, he led 3,000 black Philadelphians in a protest against colonization.
For additional information, see:
Born into slavery in Virginia, he escaped to Canada after his owner moved to Kentucky. He published his autobiography, Fifty Years of Slavery, in 1863.
For excerpts from his autobiography, see:
The grandson of a Mandingo leader, Garnet was born into slavery in Maryland, escaped in 1824 and subsequently became a Presbyterian minister in Troy, N.Y. A white mob had protested his graduation from a New Hampshire academy. He then attended an abolitionist-sponsored institute in upstate New York and entered the ministry. In 1843, at the age of 27, he gave an impassioned speech in Buffalo that shocked white abolitionists. Speaking at a time when southern slavery was expanding into the Southwest and discrimination against free blacks was increasing, he appealed to a long tradition of black resistance to slavery and called on slaves to refuse to work until they were properly compensated by their masters. He subsequently founded his own African Colonization Society and began to view emigration to Liberia as a way for African Americans to overcome degradation and prejudice.
For additional biographical information, see:
For Garnet’s “Call to Rebellion”
Picture credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2949.html
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879)
The symbol of radical abolition, the Boston-born Garrison was just 25 years old when he denounced colonization as a cruel hoax, designed to racially cleanse the North while doing nothing to end slavery in the South. The son of a drunken sailor who deserved the family before William was three, he served an apprenticeship in the printing trade, and gained public noteriety when he was convicted of libel for attacking a Massachusetts merchant who was shipping maryland to Louisiana. After he was bailed out of jail, he founded the antislavery newspaper The Liberator in 1831. The most controversial figure in the abolitionist movement, he began to question whether the Bible represented the word of God, demanded equal rights for women, and called for voluntary dissolution of the Union. In 1854, he denounced the Constitution as "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell" because it sanctioned slavery.
For excerpts from Garrison's writings, see:
For Garrison on the death of John Brown, see:
For brief biographies, see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1561.html
Historian David Blight on Garrison
Picture credit: http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/garrison.htm
Born into slavery in North Carolina in 1786, Grandy escaped in 1833 and published the narrative of his life, Life of a Slave, in 1843.
For excerpts from his narrative, see:
Angelina Grimké and Sarah Grimké
Angelina and Sarah Grimke were among the first abolitionists to challenge the doctrine that women should not speak before mixed audiences of both sexes. Born to a wealthy South Carolina slaveowning family, the two sisters grew to hate slavery and moved to Philadelphia, joined the Quakers, and became active in the antislavery cause. In 1837, Angelina gained noteriety by lecturing against slavery to audiences that included men. Shocked by this breach of the doctrine of separate sexual spheres, ministers in Massachusetts called on their fellow clergy to forbid women from speaking from church pulpits. Sarah responded with a pamphlet entitled Letters on the Condition of Women and the Equality of the Sexes, one of hte first modern statements of feminist principles. She denounced the injustice of lower pay and denial of equal educational opportunities for women. She expressed outrage that women were "regarded by men, as pretty toys or as mere instruments of pleasure." men and women, she concluded should not be treated differently since both were endowed with inherent natural rights.
For quotations from Angelina Grimke's An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836), see:
A fugitive from slavery in Maryland, Hawkins moved to Canada where he became a bish in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He published his autobiography, From Slavery to Bishopric, in 1891.
For excerpts from his autobiography, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAShawkins.htm
An inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom, Josiah Henson was a slave for more than 30 years on a 500-acre Maryland plantation before escaping to Canada in 1830.
Born in 1789 in Charles County, Md., Henson was sold away from his mother to a tavern keeper. He was then sold to Isaac Riley in Maryland’s Montgomery County, who frequently sent Henson to the District of Columbia to sell produce. When a “tyrannical, barbarous” man defeated Riley in a fight, he sent Henson to get revenge. In an ambush, Henson’s should blades were broken, and he could never again raise his hands above his head.
In 1825, Riley sent him to Davies County, Ky., where Henson became a preacher. There, he earned money to try to purchase his freedom, but upon his return to Maryland, Riley rejected his offer of $350. Henson returned to Kentucky and he and his wife and four children escaped on foot to Lake Erie, where a Scottish ship captain took them to Buffalo. From there, they entered Canada. Canada had adopted an antislavery law in 1793.
In 1841, Henson and a group of abolitionists bought 200 acres near Dresden, Ontario, and established Dawn settlement, a successful farming and manufacturing community for fugitive slaves. They also founded the British American Institute, Canada’s first vocational school for blacks. To support his efforts, Henson lectured in the United States and Britain, where he was received by Queen Victoria. When the Archbishop of Canterbury asked where he had been educated, he replied: “From the University of Adversity.”
In her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe said that Henson’s1849 autobiography helped inspire her novel. In May 1858, over a year before his raid on Harpers Ferry, the abolitionist John Brown met with blacks and whites at a church in Dresden started by Henson. Although about half of the former slaves who escaped to Canada eventually returned to the United States, Henson remained in Dresden, where he died in 1883 at the age of 94.
For excerpts from The Life of Josiah Henson, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAShenson.htm
Born into slavery in Edenton, N.C., she escaped to Philadelphia in 1834. Her slightly fictionalized autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, describes the sexual abuse she suffered under slavery.
For excerpts from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Sjacobs.htm
The son of a free black and a slave mother, Johnson, following the Civil War, became a minister in Denver and a missionary in Africa. His autobiography, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave, was published in 1909.
For excerpts from his autobiography, see:
The dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln, Keckley was born into slavery in Virginia and purchased her freedom in 1855. She published her autobiography, Thirty Years a Slave, which contains her recollections of Abraham Lincoln, in 1868.
For excerpts from her autobiography, see:
John Mercer Langston (1829-1897)
The son of a Virginia planter and a slave, Langston was born in Delaware and raised in Ohio, where he graduated from Oberlin College. He was elected as a town clerk in 1855, recruited African American soldiers during the Civil War, served a law professor at Howard University, and served as U.S. minister to Haiti and a Representative in Congress.
For additional biographical information:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASlangstonJM.htm
Rev. Elijah Lovejoy (1802-1837)
The Reverend Elijah Lovejoy was the abolitionist movement's first martyr. The editor of a religious newspaper in slaveholding St. Louis, he had his press destroyed after he published an account of a lynching of an African American and the acquital of its perpetrators. He then moved to Alton, Ill., a town across the Mississippi River from slaveholding St. Louis. Three times, mobs destroyed his printingpresses. When a fourth printing press arrived, Lovejoy armed himself and guarded the new press at the warehouse. An anti-abolitionists mob set the warehouse on fire and shot Lovejoy as he fled the building. Lovejoy's opponents lined the streets and cheered as the mutilated corpse was dragged through the town.
For accounts of Lovejoy's murder, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASlovejoy.htm
Benjamin Lundy (1789-1839)
Publisher of one of the earliest antislavery newspapers, The Genius of Universal Emancipation, Lundy was a Quaker who was born in New Jersey and later moved to Vermont and then to Illinois.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASlundy.htm
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880)
A delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, she was denied the right to take part on the ground that participation would offend British public opinion. Instead, she and two other American women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Abby Kelly, were relegated to seats in a balcony. Eight years later, she and Stanton organized the first women's rights convention in history at Seneca Falls, N.Y.
Picture credit: http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/96jan/mott.html#etext
For additional biographical information, see:
For her writings, see:
Autobiographical Sketch - Taken from the Pendle Hill Pamphlet, "Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches of a Famous Nineteenth Century Quaker Minister & Reformer
Remarks on John Brown delivered to the 24th annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, October 25-26, 1860
Slavery and the Woman Question excerpts from Lucretia Mott's Diary of Her 1840 attendance of the World Anti-Slavery Convention in Great Britain
Sermon delivered at the Cherry Street Meeting in Philadelphia, September 30, 1849
A free black born in upstate New York in 1808, Northrup took a hazardous job requiring travel to the South. Even though he was carrying papers proving he was a freeman and citizen, he was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841, and sold into slavery in Louisiana. In 1852, Northrup's New York friends received a letter from him and with support from the governor of New York, the secretary of war, and a Supreme Court justice, were able to secure his freedom. He published the narrative of his life, Twelve Years a Slave, in 1855.
For excerpts from his narrative, see:
Born into slavery in Maryland, he escaped into Pennsylvania around the age of 20. He worked as a blacksmith and a schoolteacher before studying theology at Yale and becoming a minister in Connecticut. He helped organize African American support for the Amistad captives and represented Connecticut at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. He published his autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith, in 1859.
For excerpts from his autobiography, see:
A wealthy Boston Brahmin and a Harvard-trained attorney, he abandoned the practice of law after he saw a Boston mob try to lynch William Lloyd Garrison. A spellbinding orator, he became a radical abolitionist who strongly supported women's rights.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASphillips.htm
Robert Purvis (1810-1898)
The son of a cotton broker in South Carolina, he moved to Philadelphia, where he established a library for African Americans and campaigned to repeal a state law prohibiting blacks from voting. Following passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, he served as chairman of a vigilance committee, which sought to protect African Americans from kidnapping.
For excerpts from an 1860 Purvis speech, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASpurvis.htm
Charles L. Remond (1810-1873)
The American Anti-Slavery Society's first African American lecturer was born in Salem, Mass., and recruited black soldiers during the Civil War.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASremond.htm
The son of a North Carolina slaveowner and a slave, Roper lived in North and South Carolina and Georgia before he escaped from slavery in 1834. He published the narrative of his life, Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, in 1838.
For excerpts from his narrative, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASroper.htm
David Ruggles (1810-1849)
The country's first African American bookseller, he wrote and edited a number of antislavery publications. He is best known for his role in assisting Frederick Douglass after his escape from slavery.
For additional biographical information and Douglass's account of Ruggles, see:
John B. Russwurm
A graduate of Bowdoin College and one of the first African Americans to receive a college degree, Russworm was (along with Samuel Cornish) the founder of Freedom's Journal, New York's first black newspaper. In contrast to most African American leaders who rejected colonization, Russwurm emigrated to Liberia in 1829.
William Seward (1801-1872)
Born in Florida, Seward served as New York governor, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State during the Civil War. A Whig and later a Republican in politics, he gained noteriety for arguing that there was a "higher law" than the Constitution, a higher moral law that regarded slavery as sinful.
In 1858, Seward examined the sources of the conflicts between North and South. Some people thought the sectional conflict was "accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefore ephemeral." Seward believed these people were wrong. The roots of the conflict went far deeper. "It is an irrepressible conflict," he said, "between opposing and enduring forces."
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASseward.htm
Gerrit Smith (1797-1874)
A wealthy upstate New York landholder and a founder of the Liberty Party, he provided land to hundreds of African American families. He was one of the "Secret Six" who financed John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Va.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASsmith.htm
Austin Stewart (1793-1860)
Born into slavery in Virginia, Stewart escaped from slavery and fled to Canada, where he lived in Wilberforce Colony, a free black community established by the Quakers. His autobiography, Twenty-Two Years a Slave, was published in 1857.
For excerpts from Twenty-Two Years a Slave, see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASsteward.htm
William Still (1821-1902)
A leading figure in the Underground Railroad, who helped 649 fugitives escape slavery, he led a post-Civil War campaign to end discrimination on Philadelphia's streetcars.
For additional biographical information and picture credit, see: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASstill.htm
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin sold more copies than any previous work of fiction: 5000 copies in 2 days; 50,000 copies in 8 weeks; 300,000 copies in a year; a million copies in 16 months. It was translated into 37 languages and inspired at least 20 songs, two card games, countless plays and stage shows, a comic opera‑‑and more than 30 "anti‑Tom" replies (with titles like Uncle Robin in His Cabin in Virginia and Tom Without One in Boston). Yet Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin‑‑the most famous novel in American history‑‑was out of print in the United States during much of the twentieth century.
The mere mention of the novel immediately brings to mind one of the most famous scenes in American literature: the slave mother Eliza, clutching her child, fleeing slavery across ice floes on the Ohio River, pursued by bloodhounds. Yet this scene does not actually appear in the novel itself. Today, the phrase "Uncle Tom" is a term of derision, referring to a black man who is humiliatingly deferential to whites. In fact the novel portrays Uncle Tom as a dignified and brave man who dies rather than betray the hiding place of two runaway slaves. Like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Tom believes that patient determination is the most effective protest against oppression.
Even Americans who have never opened the pages of Uncle Tom's Cabin recognize the names of its major characters: the brutal dissolute overseer Simon Legree; the mischievous black child Topsy; the New England spinster Miss Ophelia St. Clare, bitterly opposed to slavery in the abstract, but unable to touch the skin of a black child. Yet, ironically, the popular image of Uncle Tom's Cabin comes not from the novel itself but from crude and bitterly racist "Tom shows" that grossly distorted the original story and its characters.
Many people who have never actually read the book think of it as a crude anti‑Southern tract‑‑sentimental, melodramatic, didactic, and racially condescending. This view is almost entirely incorrect. The novel's archvillain, the drunken, degenerate Simon Legree, is a Northerner, a native of Vermont. And one of the book's most idealized characters is a Southern slaveowner, Augustine St. Clare, who recognizes that slavery is a moral evil. Indeed, much of the novel's power grows out of the fact that it treats slavery as an economic system that corrupts people's moral sensibilities and leads them to treat "a man as a thing."
When the novel appeared in 1851, it was correctly perceived as truly a revolutionary work. Not only was it the first serious work of fiction to depict a black man as a hero‑‑the first to show slaves as real people with a full range of human emotions and aspirations‑‑it was one of the very first works of realism in American literature, blending humor, sentiment, and pathos to depict life in all of its harsh and complex reality.
One of the supreme ironies of American literary history is that the woman who produced the most effective written attack on slavery had little first‑hand acquaintance with slavery. Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811, the daughter of Lyman Beecher, an eminent Congregationalist minister. At 21, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when her father became president of the Lane Theological Seminary. Three years later, she married Calvin Stowe, a professor of biblical literature at Lane, "rich in Greek and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, and alas! in nothing else." When he was offered an ill‑paid professorship at Bowdoin College in 1850, the family moved to Brunswick, Maine.
Poverty and moral fervor prompted her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin. To supplement her family's meager income, Harriet Beecher Stowe contributed stories and sketches to local periodicals and women's magazines. During the fall of 1850, she received a letter from a sister‑in‑law in Boston, relating the sufferings of escaped slaves under the new Fugitive Slave Law. The letter concluded: "Now, Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make the whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is!" Stowe replied: "As long as the baby sleeps with me at night I can't do much at anything, but I will do it at last. I will write that thing if I live."
In February 1851, while sitting at church, she had a vision that would become the basis of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She rushed home and wrote down her vision‑‑of a pious slave brutally beaten to death by his master‑‑using brown wrapping paper when she ran out of writing paper. In later years, Harriet Beecher Stowe would say that she did not write her famous novel. "God wrote it," she would explain. "I merely wrote His dictation."
As she wrote her novel, she drew upon a wealth of memories: an aunt's description of her marriage to a Jamaican planter, who kept a black mistress and a family of mulatto children; a single visit to a Kentucky slave plantation; and especially the stories she heard from Eliza Buck, a former slave who helped her with housework in Cincinnati, whose children had been fathered by her former master. Stowe modeled many of her characters on people she had met. Josiah Henson, a deeply religious former slave, provided the model for Tom. Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist and ex‑slave, furnished a model for the proud, defiant fugitive slave George Harris.
In March 1851 she asked the editor of the National Era, a leading abolitionist weekly, if he would be interested in publishing a serialized story about slavery. The editor responded positively and paid her a $300 advance. The editor expected the serialized story to run for three or four months, but the story ran on and on. After six months, the editor asked the National Era's readers if the story should be brought to a close. They demanded that the story continue. Even before the National Era had printed the final installment, a small Boston publisher released a two‑volume edition of the complete work, which had a larger immediate impact than any work of fiction ever written.
What accounts for the intensity with which the novel was received? Part of the answer lies in the simple fact that Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the very first American novels to explore seriously the pains and cruelties of slavery. Abolitionists had written six or seven antislavery novels during the 1830s and 1840s, and ``plantation romancers'' such as William Alexander Caruthers, William Gilmore Simms, and John Pendleton Kennedy included faithful house servants and beautiful quadroons in their highly romanticized portraits of plantation life. For the most part, however, American literature simply ignored the major moral issue of the age.
But the popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin rested on more than the fact that it dealt with a timely social issue. It succeeded in placing slavery into a religious and moral framework deeply meaningful to early nineteenth‑century Americans. The novel's structure is rooted in the Judeo‑Christian story of salvation‑‑a story repeated again and again by religious revivalists. The novel describes two parallel tales of redemption and deliverance. Tom, who is sold down the river away from two kindly slaveowners to the brutal Simon Legree, ultimately achieves spiritual salvation; George and Eliza Harris, who escape northward from slavery, ultimately achieve physical freedom. By awakening countless Northerners to the fact that black slaves suffered just as the ancient Hebrews had suffered in bondage in ancient Egypt, Uncle Tom's Cabin created a new awareness of the moral evil of slavery.
An excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin:
"Gentlemen, who are you, down there, and what do you want?"
"We want a party of runaway[s].... One George Harris and Eliza Harris, and their son, and Jim Selden, and an old woman. We've got the officers, here, and a warrant to take 'em, too. D'ye hear? An't you George Harris, that belongs to Mr. Harris, of Shelby county, Kentucky?"
"I am George Harris. A Mr. Harris, of Kentucky, did call me his property. But now I'm a free man, standing on God's free soil; and my wife and my child I claim as mine. Jim and his mother are here. We have arms to defend ourselves, and we mean to do it. You can come up, if you like; but the first of you that comes within the range of our bullets is a dead man, and the next, and the next; and so on till the last."
"O, come! come!" said a short, puffy man, stepping forward, and blowing his nose as he did so. "Young man, this an't no kind of talk at all for you. You see, we're officers of justice. We've got the law on our side, and the power, and so forth; so you'd better give up peaceably, you see; for you'll certainly have to give up, at last."
"I know very well that you've got the law on your side, and the power," said George, bitterly. ”You mean to take my wife to sell in New Orleans, and put my boy like a calf in a trader's pen, and send Jim's old mother to the brute that whipped and abused her before, because he couldn't abuse her son. You want to send Jim and me back to be whipped and tortured, and ground down under the heels of them that you call masters; and your laws will bear you out in it,‑‑more shame for you and them! But you haven't got us. We don't own your laws; we don't own your country; we stand here as free, under God's sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we'll fight for our liberty till we die."
... If it had been only a Hungarian youth, now bravely defending in some mountain fastness the retreat of fugitives escaping from Austria into America, this would have been sublime heroism; but as it was a youth of African descent, defending the retreat of fugitives through America into Canada, of course we are too well instructed and patriotic to see any heroism in it; and if any of our readers do, they must do it on their own private responsibility.
For excerpts from The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), see:
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASstowe.htm
Born on a slave plantation near Columbia, S.C., in 1849, one of 15 children, Stroyer later became an African Methodist Episcopal minister in Salem, Mass. His 1898 autobiography, My Life in the South, provides vivid descriptions of childhood under slavery.
For excerpts from My Life in the South, see:
Charles Sumner (1811-1874)
On May 19, 1856, Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts began a two-day speech in which he denounced "The Crime Against Kansas." In his speech, Sumner, charged that there was a southern conspiracy to make Kansas a slave state: "It is the rape of a virgin territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery." Sumner proceeded to argue that a number of southern senators, including Andrew Butler of South Carolina, stood behind the conspiracy. Launching into a bitter personal diatribe, Sumner accused Butler of taking "the harlot, Slavery," for his mistress and then made fun of a medical disorder Butler had. At the rear of the Senate chamber, Stephen Douglass muttered: "That damn fool will get himself killed by some other damned fool."
On May 21, Senator Butler's nephew, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, entered a nearly empty Senate chamber, convinced that he had a duty to "avenge the insult to my State." Sighting Sumner at his desk, Brooks struck him with his cane. He swung so hard that the cane broke into pieces.
Brooks caned Sumner rather than challenging him to a duel because he wanted to use the same method slaveholders used to chastise slaves. Brooks left Sumner "as senseless as a corpse for several minutes, his head bleeding copiously from the frightful wounds, and the blood saturating his clothes." It took Sumner three years to recover from his injuries and return to his Senate seat.
In the South, Brooks became an instant hero. Merchants in Charleston, S.C. bought him a new cane inscribed "Hit him again." A vote to expel Brooks from the House of Representatives failed because every southern representative but one voted against expulsion. Instead, Brooks was censured. He resigned his seat and was immediately reelected to Congress.
In the North, Sumner was regarded as a martyr to the cause of freedom. A million copies of his "Crime Against Kansas" speech were distributed. A young Massachusetts woman summed up popular feeling in the North, condemning Brook's assault with these words: "If I had been there I would have torn his eyes out and so I would now if I could."
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASsumner.htm
Arthur Tappan (1786-1865)
Lewis Tappan (1788-1863)
Founders of the country's first commercial credit-ranking service (which would eventually become Dun & Bradstreet), these brothers were born in Northampton, Mass., and, after moving to New York and becoming successful in the silk-importing trade, became important financial backers for the abolitionist campaign. Lewis played an important behind-the-scenes roles in defending the Amistad captives. In 1840, they broke away from the American Anti-Slavery Society, in part over women's right to participate in the administration of the organization and the advisability of nominating abolitionists as independent political candidates, and help establish the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Strong supporters of political efforts to end slavery, they were among the founders of the Liberty Party.
Picture credits: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAStappanA.htm
She was known as Isabella when she was born into slavery around 1797 in New York’s Hudson River Valley. A decade and a half later, she adopted a new name. As Sojourner Truth she became a legend in the struggle to abolish slavery and extend equal rights to women.
The youngest of ten or twelve children, she grew up in a single room in a dark and damp cellar, sleeping on straw on top of loose boards. For sixteen years, from 1810 to 1826, she served as a household slave in New York State, and was sold five times. One owner beat her so savagely that her arms and shoulders bore scars for the rest of her life.
She bore a fellow slave five children, only to see at least three of her offspring sold away. In 1826, just a year before slavery was finally abolished in the state, she fled after her owner broke a promise to free her and her husband. She took refuge with a farm family that later bought her freedom.
She moved to New York City, carrying only a bag of clothing and 25 cents. There she supported herself as a domestic servant. It was a period of intense religious excitement, and although she lacked formal schooling, Isabella began to preach at camp meetings and on street corners. In the early 1830s, she found herself caught up in one of the major sensations of the day. Briefly she resided with a religious sect led by Robert Matthews, a former carpenter and self-declared savior, who called himself Matthias, the last of the Apostles. Matthias, who had shoulder-length hair and a long beard, denounced alcohol, called ministers devils, demanded that women subordinate themselves to men, and proclaimed that marriage vows were not binding. In the fall of 1834, national attention focused on Matthias; he was arrested, tried, and ultimately acquitted of embezzlement and murder.
In succeeding years, Isabella became involved in many of the reform activities of the time, including the movement to curb drinking. For a short time she joined a utopian community in Massachusetts founded by abolitionists.
In 1843, she took on the name Sojourner Truth, convinced that God had called on her to wander the country and boldly speak out the truth. Her fame as a preacher, singer, and orator spread quickly and three incidents became the stuff of legend. During the late 1840s, when Frederick Douglass expressed doubt about the possibility of ending slavery peacefully, she replied: “Frederick, is God dead?”
In 1851, in a speech before a woman’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, she demanded that Americans recognize that impoverished African American women were women too, reportedly saying: “I could work as much and east as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash as well! And a’n’t I a woman?”
In 1858, when a hostile audience insisted that the six-foot-tall orator spoke too powerfully to be a woman, she reportedly bared her breasts before them.
During the Civil War she took an active role promoting the Union cause, collecting food and supplies for black troops and struggling to make emancipation a war aim. When the war was over, she traveled across the North, collecting signatures on petitions calling on Congress to set aside western land for former slaves. At her death in 1883, she was rightly remembered as one of the nation;s most eloquent opponents of discrimination.
For excerpts from her speeches and the narrative of her life, see:
Picture credit: http://www.new-paltz.ny.us/truthtemp.html
Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913)
The "Black Moses," Tubman escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1848 and free more than 300 slaves during 19 secret trips into the South. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse and scout for the Union army.
Picture credit: http://www2.lhric.org/pocantico/tubman/images.htm
For brief biographies, see:
For excerpts from Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People (1886)
Nat Turner (1800-1831)
On Aug. 22, 1831, Turner, a trusted Baptist preacher, led a slave insurrection in Southampton County in southern Virginia, in which some 60 to 80 slaves killed some 60 whites, more than half women and children. Turner was not captured until Oct. 31.
Turner had experienced religious visions and in 1828 became convinced that he was to lead a war against evil when the proper signs appeared. After his capture, he was asked whether he was mistaken in thinking that he was charged with the holy mission of fighting against the Devil. He replied: "Was not Christ crucified?"
For excerpts from Turner's Confessions, see:
The Virginia-born slave was author of an 1889 autobiography A Slave Woman.
For excerpts from her autobiography, see:
David Walker (1785-1830)
A free black born in Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote one of America¹s most radical and incendiary assessments of racial prejudice of the early nineteenth century, His Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World challenged Walker’s "afflicted and slumbering brethren" to overthrow slavey. A second-hand clothing dealer in Boston, he circulated his Appeal among black seamen who carried the document into southern ports.
For excerpts from Walker’s Appeal, see:
A contemporary editorial regarding Walker’s Appeal:
Historian David Blight on Walker:
Historian William Scarborough on Walker:
Theodore Weld (1803-1895)
In 1834, Weld, a 31 year old student at Lane theological seminary in Cincinnati, led 18 days of intense discussion on slavery and convinced his fellow students to set up schools in Cincinnati's African American ghetto. Lane's president Lyman Beecher (father of Harriet Beecher Stowe) and the board of trustees expelled the antislavery students, many of whom subsequently became agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society. His 1839 volume Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses documented the horrors of slavery.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASweld.htm
Fanny Wright (1795-1852)
The Scottish-born reformer and lecturer received the nickname “The Great Red Harlot of Infidelity” because of her radical ideals abot birth control, liberalized divorce laws, and legal rights for married women. The currents of radical antislavery thought inspired her to found Nashoba Colony in 1826 near Memphis as an experiment in interracial living. She established a racially-integrated cooperative community in which slaves were to receive an education and earn enough money to purchase their freedom. Unfortunately, publicity about her desire to abolish the nuclear family, religion, private property, and slavery created a furor and the community dissolved after only four years.
Picture credit: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REwright.htm
A brief biography and excerpts from writings about her: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REwright.htm
Author of the 1847 slave narrative The Life and Adventures of Zamba, an African King, which describes his kidnapping and 40 years of labor on a slave plantation.
For excerpts from The Life and Adventures of Zamba, an African King (1847), see