|Introduction | Questions and Activities | Lesson Focus | Resources | Program Index||Teacher's Guide Contents|
2: Women AbolitionistsThere was a conspiracy of silence on the slavery issue. And one of the first things abolitionists had to do was put the issue on the table in a way that it couldn't be ignored. Or as Wendell Phillips said, our enemy is not the slaveowner only, it's also the person of good will who simply doesn't want to talk about slavery. . . .
Eric Foner, historian
This lesson uses a program segment and primary sources to deepen understanding of the militant phase of anti-slavery activism inspired by the pamphlets, newspapers, speeches, and organized campaigns of early 19th-century abolitionists.
Program Segment (approximately 30 minutes)
As slavery spreads rapidly into the West and Southwest, a new phase of anti-slavery activism begins -- as well as increased pro-slavery violence and legal repression of African Americans and their white allies.
Begin: Harriet Jacobs' garret
End: Footage of railroad tracks
How did abolitionists propose to bring about the end of slavery? What risks did they face? How do you think other people responded to their efforts?
What influence could a speech, pamphlet, or newspaper have on those for or against slavery? Why might reading or writing be considered "dangerous" by pro-slavery proponents?
What were some of the methods used by abolitionists? How did women contribute to the movement?
In addition to the abolition of slavery, in what other ways did abolitionists seek to change America? Why did some view their activities as a threat to the social order?
In what ways could Walker's Appeal reach the South? Once there, how could it be distributed? Who do you think distributed it? What consequences might a person in possession of Walker's Appeal face if caught?
After Walker's Appeal appeared in the South, the governors of Georgia and North Carolina called secret sessions of the state legislatures to decide how to deal with the threat. Why do you think it posed such a threat?
Exploring Primary Sources
Why did abolitionists find so much resistance to their cause in the North? As a class, read and discuss the primary source documents below. In each document, who is speaking? To whom is he speaking? What is the intended audience? How do you think they responded?
Historian Herbert Aptheker identifies three major schools of thought among abolitionists:
- David Walker's Appeal
- Henry Highland Garnet's "Call to Rebellion"
- Frederick Douglass' "The Meaning of July Fourth..."
- Anthony Burns's account of his capture
- Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
- Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of our Anti-Slavery Conflict
- James Henry Hammond's speech
As a class, discuss these approaches. What strategies and tactics would advocates of each of these ideologies use? Which approach do you think was most effective? Why do you think one approach was more effective than another? When were approaches combined?
- Moral suasion [persuasion] as the only proper and effective instrument for change
- Moral suasion supported by political action
- Resistance through direct, physical, militant action.*
Following the class discussion, have students work individually or in small groups to identify and research an abolitionist who exemplified one of these ideological approaches. Use the General Resources to find letters, speeches, pamphlets, books, and newspaper articles by or about abolitionists (or about abolition, pro or con) written between 1830 and 1863. What did this person say and do that indicated his or her position? Who else supported these ideas and actions? Who was opposed? Have students write a newspaper editorial for or against the abolitionist(s) they have researched. Ask for volunteers to present their editorials to the class.
* Herbert Aptheker, "One Continual Cry" David Walker's Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829-1830): Its Setting & Its Meaning. (New York: Humanities Press, 1965).
Read entries on women abolitionists in the Resource Bank. Discuss the factors that led to separate organizations for women, and for separate organizations of black and white women.
Using the Resource Bank entries below and other sources, develop a list of women abolitionists. Working in pairs or in small groups, have students choose one white and one black woman to examine these questions, considering such factors as race, class, legal status, geography, and organizational affiliation.
- The Forten women
- The Douglass family
- Jarena Lee
- Harriet Jacobs
- Angelina Grimké Weld
- Fanny Kemble
- Harriet Tubman
- Harriet Jacobs
- Harriety Beecher Stowe
- Other Abolitionists
Now have students create an imaginary dialogue--in writing or as a dialogue performed for the class--between the two women, in which they discuss these issues in a conversation or correspondence. Students should draw on real documents, such as letters, speeches and journals, for their ideas.
- Did the two women ever meet or work together?
- If so, what were the circumstances of their meeting or working?
- If not, what factors (practical or philosophical) might have prevented them from meeting or working together?