Section #9 - Growing opposition to slavery triggers domestic violence and a schism in America’s churches
Chapter 110: Two Powerful Black Abolitionists Make Their Voices Heard
Frederick Douglass Becomes A National Spokesman For The Abolitionist Movement
On Nantucket in August 1841, the leader of the abolitionist cause, Lloyd Garrison, recognizes the powerful effect that Frederick Douglass could have on breaking through to white audiences about the evils of slavery.
It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr. DOUGLASS could be persuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the promotion of the anti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a colored complexion
He invites Douglass to formally join the movement and Douglass accepts, immediately throwing himself into his destined mission.
In 1843 he joins the “One Hundred Conventions” tour at twenty-five as a lecturer. This is a grueling affair which takes him from upstate New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Danger accompanies him at all stops. In Pendleton, Indiana, he is beaten by a white mob and ends up with a broken right hand that is never again fully functional.
Speaking mostly to white audiences, he recounts his own life experiences to establish his main themes:
Blacks who are given a fair chance in America will, like himself, succeed and become good citizens.
But slavery shuts off that opportunity by reducing Men to the status of Brutes.
In the process of debasing blacks, whites commit atrocities that tarnish their immortal souls.
They are often reinforced here by white churches that fail to live up to Christ’s teachings.
The “slavery problem” can be solved if blacks are taught to read and write and given their freedom.
Douglass himself is living proof of what is possible for America’s slave population.
The South quickly views the eloquent Frederick Douglass as a threat to their narrative about Africans as a separate species from whites, universally and irretrievably inferior, potentially violent, and best kept in captivity.
Douglass violates those stereotypes, as do other free blacks now intent on making themselves heard.
Black Preacher Henry Highland Garnet Urges Slaves To Resist Their Oppressors
While Frederick Douglass is initially intent in 1843 on using moral persuasion to convince white masters to end slavery, the black preacher, Henry Highland Garnet is calling for physical resistance as the only option left.
Like Douglass, Garnet is a run-away slave, smuggled out of Maryland at nine years old, by his parents, George and Henrietta Trusty, who settle in New Hope, Pennsylvania before moving to New York City in 1824. Once there, the family name is changed from Trusty to Garnet, in order to throw off possible pursuers.
George finds work as a shoemaker and is able to enroll Henry in the African Free School when he is eleven. He soon falls in with a handful of other youths who will become leaders in the abolitionist movement: the future Episcopal minister, Alexander Crummel; college professor, Charles Reason; the MD, James McCune Smith. Together they found the Garrison Literary and Benevolent Society, in honor of the white reformer.
In 1829 slave-catchers in New York temporarily scatter Garnet’s family, and he ends working on a Long Island farm. He suffers a severe leg injury there while playing sports which leaves him on crutches and eventually ends with amputation. The disability turns him more inward, and soon both his studies and his church-going pick up. In 1835 he joins the First Colored Presbyterian Church and falls under the sway of the renowned Reverend Theodore Wright, co-founder of The American Anti-Slavery Society.
Later that year, Garnet attends an academy in New Hampshire run by the controversial utopian “perfectionist,” John Humphrey Noyes. After protestors destroy the schoolhouse, he moves to graduate from the Oneida Institute.
In 1840 he moves to Troy, NY, where he completes his education under the direction of Reverend Nathan Beman, one of Charles Finney’s “New School” converts. A year later he marries a Boston school teacher, begins preaching at his Liberty Street Presbyterian Church, and edits The National Watchman, a black themed newspaper.
Garnet’s fame as a preacher spreads, and in August, 1843, he is asked to address the National Negro Convention in Buffalo, an annual gathering of black leaders searching for ways to free their enslaved brethren. The speech he delivers sounds the same moral outrage and call to arms as David Walker’s 1829 “Appeal To Colored Citizens.”
He opens by declaring that prior attempts to end slavery have been in vain.
Escape is impossible – with Garnet presciently citing free Mexico as an expansionist target for the South.
Then comes a litany of heroes of freedom – Vesey, Turner, Cinque, Washington – noble men and heroes.
Like David Walker fourteen years earlier, Garnet ends with a plea to the Four Million to “strike for your lives and liberties” against those “defiling your wives and daughters.”
Everything about Garnet’s speech is anathema to the South. It recalls decades-old memories of the Vesey and Turner attacks, and the more recent adverse legal decisions in the Amistad and Creole cases. It calls out politicians who would expand slavery into Texas and Mexico, along with Christian clergymen who would defend it where it already exists.
It reminds owners of the blood already on their hands and invokes the image of blood to be spilled by four million angry Africans seeking revenge.
As such, it will soon provoke a backlash across the South, led in part by the clergy.