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document image of flier for "No Union with Slaveholders Broadside"

Chapter 02

Anti-Slavery in Black & White

In the 1820s African American and white abolitionists began working together to pressure Americans to confront the brutal realities of slavery. Alarmed by the rapid expansion of slavery beyond the Mississippi River, they forged new and unexpected relationships that defied the color line building the abolitionist movement. They carried their concerns to the public arena, declaring freedom for all. They marketed their movement including creating abolitionist papers, publications, logos and promotional products. Within the movement the end of slavery was the call of the day, yet tension regarding Black equality was also present.

As the abolitionist movement gained momentum its successes sparked violent anti-abolitionist backlash, and racism soaked into popular culture, political campaigns, and scientific thought. The result was that no American could avoid the issue of slavery and race.

Photograph of Cazenovia Convention in gold and brown frame

Section IICrossing Boundaries

An interracial network of abolitionists worked together on the common goal to end slavery. However, challenging slavery meant testing the boundaries of solidarity.

Crossing Boundaries

Abolitionists, whether Black or white, disagreed on the best tactics for defeating slavery and the question of what freedom would mean for African Americans. Some grew close and became radical models for interracial cooperation and friendship, like Frederick Douglass and reformer Gerrit Smith. Others, like Lydia Maria Child and Harriet Jacobs, coped with the strain of collaboration. Challenging slavery meant testing the boundaries of solidarity. Douglass dedicated his book to Gerrit Smith, a dear friend and political ally devoted to equal rights.

Photograph of Cazenovia Convention in gold and brown frame

Cazenovia Convention

Photograph of Cazenovia Convention in gold and brown frame

Cazenovia Convention

Gerrit Smith stands between Mary and Emily Edmondson while Theodosia Gilbert and Theodore Weld flank Frederick Douglass. They all worked together as abolitionists and equals.

Hardcover book entitled "My Bondage and My Freedom" with an illustration of Frederick Douglass as frontispiece. This slave narrative is dedicated to Gerrit Smith.

My Bondage and My Freedom, by Frederick Douglass, 1855

Gerrit Smith & Frederick Douglass

Hardcover book entitled "My Bondage and My Freedom" with an illustration of Frederick Douglass as frontispiece. This slave narrative is dedicated to Gerrit Smith.

My Bondage and My Freedom, by Frederick Douglass, 1855

Through their shared interest in ending slavery, Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass developed a close friendship that spanned decades. At first glance, the two seemed unlikely allies. Smith worked within the political system and even served in Congress because he felt that the U.S. Constitution promised equal rights regardless of race.

Image of handwritten Land Indenture document

Promoting Black Landownership

Photograph of Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith

Image of handwritten Land Indenture document

Promoting Black Landownership

Photograph of Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith understood that economic autonomy was crucial to claiming equal rights. The abolitionist distributed 40-acre land grants to free people of color. Smith was also one of the wealthiest men in the country. In contrast, Douglass was a self-liberated, formerly enslaved Black man. Their unorthodox relationship served as a model for equality, and their personal letters remain one of the largest surviving interracial correspondences from the period.

Black and white illustration of Joseph Cinquez on a ship

Joseph Cinquez

Joseph Cinquez & John Quincy Adams

Black and white illustration of Joseph Cinquez on a ship

Joseph Cinquez

Joseph Cinquez was the daring leader of the Amistad slave ship rebellion in 1839. He and other enslaved people took hold of the ship, but eventually were arrested and charged with murder. Sengbe Pieh (or Cinquez) was from the western African Mende people. Awaiting his trial, he declared, "It is better to die than to be a white man's slave."

Black and white illustration of John Quincy Adams in the House of Representatives

John Quincy Adams

Black and white illustration of John Quincy Adams in the House of Representatives

John Quincy Adams

Former President John Quincy Adams represented the Africans before the Supreme Court and won an acquittal. Adams argued that the Amistad uprising was legally justified because, “These Negroes were free and had a right to assert their liberty.” However, he was not a radical abolitionist and did not think Cinquez his equal.

A broadside calling for violence against abolitionist George Thompson. The broadside is printed in black ink on a rectangular piece of off-white paper. At top, in large letters are the words [THOMPSON, / THE ABOLITIONIST].  This is underlined by a thick black line. Below the line are the words [That infamous foreign scoundrel THOMPSON, will / hold forth this afternoon, at the Liberator Office, No. / 48, Washington Street. The present is a fair opportu- / nity for the friends of the Union to snake Thompson / out!  It will be a contest between the Abolitionists and / the friends of the Union. A  purse of $100 has been / raised by a number of patriotic citizens to reward the / individual who shall first lay violent hands on Thompson, / so that he may be brought to the tar kettle before dark. / Friends of the Union, be vigilant!/ Boston, Wednesday, 12 o'clock.]. Below this is handwritten [Oct. 21, 1835] in black ink.

Violence Against Abolitionists, 1835

Fighting Change

A broadside calling for violence against abolitionist George Thompson. The broadside is printed in black ink on a rectangular piece of off-white paper. At top, in large letters are the words [THOMPSON, / THE ABOLITIONIST].  This is underlined by a thick black line. Below the line are the words [That infamous foreign scoundrel THOMPSON, will / hold forth this afternoon, at the Liberator Office, No. / 48, Washington Street. The present is a fair opportu- / nity for the friends of the Union to snake Thompson / out!  It will be a contest between the Abolitionists and / the friends of the Union. A  purse of $100 has been / raised by a number of patriotic citizens to reward the / individual who shall first lay violent hands on Thompson, / so that he may be brought to the tar kettle before dark. / Friends of the Union, be vigilant!/ Boston, Wednesday, 12 o'clock.]. Below this is handwritten [Oct. 21, 1835] in black ink.

Violence Against Abolitionists, 1835

Americans fought the antislavery movement. Southern post offices refused to deliver abolitionist pamphlets, and southern states created their own universities to avoid sending white children to northern schools. In the North and Midwest, mobs attacked abolitionists, murdering journalist Elijah Lovejoy and hanging a noose around the neck of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. In 1835 a violent mob attacked an antislavery rally. Unable to find George Thompson, the mob attacked William Lloyd Garrison, who barely escaped alive. Most Americans clung to a belief in Black inferiority and feared living among African Americans as equals.

Photograph of Harriet Jacobs sitting in a large wooden chair

Harriet Jacobs

Photograph of Lydia Maria Child in oval-shaped frame

Lydia Maria Child

Harriet Jacobs & Lydia Maria Child

Photograph of Harriet Jacobs sitting in a large wooden chair

Harriet Jacobs

Photograph of Lydia Maria Child in oval-shaped frame

Lydia Maria Child

Harriet Jacobs escaped from slavery and wrote the groundbreaking autobiographical novel "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." The sexual abuse of enslaved women was considered a taboo subject in the mid-1800s, but Jacobs bravely published her story anyway. Lydia Maria Child, an outspoken white abolitionist and author of "An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans," agreed to edit the manuscript. It was a good match because both supported women’s rights. Yet they discovered that they defined women’s rights quite differently because of their life experiences. Their disagreements highlight the tensions of defining the abolitionist message.