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African in America logo non-tabled version
Judgment Day
Part 1: 1450-1750
Part 2: 1750-1805
Part 3: 1791-1831
<---Part 4: 1831-1865


Narrative | Resource Bank | Teacher's Guide


Abolitionism









"They say that the negroes are very well contented in ... slavery.... [S]uppose it were the fact the black man was contented...to see his wife sold on the auction-block or his daughter violated.... I say that is the heaviest condemnation of the institution, that slavery should blot out a man's manhood so as to make him contented to accept this degradation, and such an institution ought to be swept from the face of the earth."

- J. Sella Martin, ex-slave


Antislavery sentiment in the United States began in colonial times. But in the thirty years before the Civil War, the sentiment turned to militant action as blacks and whites began demanding the immediate abolition of slavery. Abolitionist organizations, local and national, were created to promote the emancipation of slaves and to aid fugitive slaves. Abolitionist publications attacked slavery as a moral and political evil, trying to raise the consciousness of northern whites and force the issue of slavery onto the national agenda.

National Negro Convention Movement
Address to The American Society of Free Persons of Colour of These United States



Although they often worked together, the relationship between black and white abolitionists was complex. Both groups hated slavery and fought for emancipation, but the struggle was much more personal for black abolitionists, who wanted not only their freedom but equal rights as well. Many white abolitionists, while decrying slavery, could not accept blacks as their equals.

David Walker, the son of a free black mother and a slave father, pushed the abolitionist movement into militancy in 1829 when he published David Walker's Appeal. He sent it south sewn into the linings of clothing black sailors bought at his Boston used-clothing store. His scathing denunciation of slavery used the language of the Declaration of Independence, especially the claim to the right of revolution, to urge slaves to rise up against their masters, causing frightened slaveholders to pass laws prohibiting blacks from learning to read and write.

David Walker
David Walker's Appeal
William Lloyd Garrison
The Liberator: To the Public


William Lloyd Garrison published the Liberator, a radical anti-slavery newspaper, from 1831 until after the end of the Civil War in 1865. One of the few whites to support Walker's Appeal, he favored a non-violent, pacifist approach known as moral suasion; if people could be persuaded of the immorality of slavery, they would change their ways. Garrison used incendiary language to advocate the immediate emancipation of all slaves and their legal equality in every way with the country's white citizens. Some southerners alleged a link between the Liberator and the August, 1831 slave uprising in Virginia, led by Nat Turner, in which over 55 whites were killed.

Garrison denounced the insurrection in Editorial Regarding David Walker's Appeal stating that "a good end does not justify wicked means."

Women played a strong role in the abolitionist movement, often breaking new ground for women as well as for blacks. By the mid-1830s, abolitionists engaged in heated debates over whether women should participate in "male" activities for the sake of the cause. In fact, the idea for the first convention for women's rights, held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, grew out of women abolitionists' dissatisfaction with the limitations placed on their role.


In 1831, Maria Stewart began to write essays and make speeches against slavery, promoting educational and economic self-sufficiency for blacks. The first black woman, or woman of any color, to speak on political issues in public, Stewart gave her last public speech in 1833 before retiring to work only in women's organizations. Although her career was short, it set the stage for the African American women speakers who followed: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, among others. Since more direct participation in the public arena was fraught with difficulties and danger, many women assisted the movement by boycotting slave-produced goods and organizing fairs and food sales to raise money for the cause.

Pennsylvania Hall was the site in 1838 of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. As 3,000 white and black women gathered to hear prominent abolitionists such as Maria Weston Chapman and Angelina Grimké Weld, the speakers' voices were drowned out by the mob which had gathered outside. When the women emerged, arms linked in solidarity, they were stoned and insulted. The mob returned the following day and burned the hall, which had been inaugurated only three days earlier, to the ground.

Pennsylvania Hall
Angelina Grimké Weld's Speech at Pennsylvania Hall


When the women emerged, arms linked in solidarity, they were stoned and insulted.

Henry Highland Garnet
Garnet's "Call to Rebellion"
Frederick Douglass
The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro

Mob violence against abolitionists began to increase, as they were seen as a threat to the social order. And increasingly in the 1840s, abolitionist leaders were escaped slaves. They had a different, more personal approach to the issue of slavery and were more anxious for action rather than rhetoric in the fight for freedom.

Henry Highland Garnet, a well-educated clergyman born a slave, issued his incendiary Call to Rebellion at the 1843 National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York. His speech, which encouraged slaves to rise up against their masters rather than wait for political solutions to their plight, was not endorsed by the committee.


Frederick Douglass, who spoke after Garnet at the Convention, denounced the idea of a violent rebellion. Douglass, an eloquent ex-slave from Maryland, was the leading African American spokesperson of the time. Although he had been Garrison's protege and friend, they eventually had a public and dramatic falling out over differing interpretations of the Constitution. Whereas Garrison regarded the Constitution as a pro-slavery document, even going so far as to publicly burn it, Douglass took the wording of the Constitution to imply federal authority to either restrict or destroy slavery.

This Fourth of July is yours,
not mine. You may rejoice,
I must mourn.

- Frederick Douglass

Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of
Uncle Tom's Cabin tried to reconcile
Garrison and Douglass.
Letter to Garrison from Harriet Beecher Stowe



When asked to give a speech on The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro he told his white audience, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." The split between Douglass and Garrison mirrored the uneasy alliance between black and white abolitionists as blacks more and more demanded leadership in the movement.

Frederick Douglass
The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro



Next: Fugitive Slaves and Northern Racism


Part 4 Narrative:
Introduction
Map: From Coast to Coast
Antebellum Slavery
• Abolitionism
Fugitive Slaves and Northern Racism
Westward Expansion
The Civil War




Part 4: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide

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