PDF Timothy Patrick McCarthy ☆ Prophets of Protest Reconsidering the History of American ☆

The campaign to abolish slavery in the United States was the most powerful and effective social movement of the nineteenth century and has served as a recurring source of inspiration for every subseuent struggle against injustice But the abolitionist story has traditionally focused on the evangelical impulses of white male middle class reformers obscuring the contributions of many African Americans women and others Prophets of Protest the first collection of writings on abolitionism in than a generation draws on an immense new body of research in African American studies literature art history film law women’s studies and other disciplines The book incorporates new thinking on such topics as the role of early black newspapers antislavery poetry and abolitionists in film and provides new perspectives on familiar figures such as Sojourner Truth Louisa May Alcott Frederick Douglass and John BrownWith contributions from the leading scholars in the field Prophets of Protest is a long overdue update of one of the central reform movements in America’s history

10 thoughts on “Prophets of Protest Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism

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    The key claim uniting and underpinning this collection of essays is that the abolition movement was racially and culturally diverse than our current syntheses recognize The editors portray themselves as the historiographic heirs of Martin Duberman The Antislavery Vanguard 1965 and Lewis Perry and Michael Fellman Antislavery Reconsidered 1979 who rehabilitated abolitionism after generations of hostility xiv xvi Historians now recognize the importance and nobility of the abolitionist cause McCarthy and Stauffer tell us but they have yet to recognize its true breadth and resilience The editors present the essays in this collection 2006 as the leading edge of scholarship on that uestion; they are evidence of the abolitionists' racial diversity and of their continuous presence in American life between the Revolution and the antebellum periodIn the first section of the book entitled Revisions two scholars argue that the dominant historical narrative of abolitionism contains crucial gaps First Robert P Forbes writes that the period between 1808 and 1831 has been drastically understudied and overlooked 13 This he says is largely because the tone of the period's abolitionism does not fit neatly into a later progressive or Modernist Revisionist script That is the period's predominance of evangelical Christian radicalism is inconvenient for believers in either inexorable historical progress or secular materialism Forbes argues that modern scholars must try to set aside their own secular assumptions if they wish to understand the importance and radicalism of that early phase 3 22 Manisha Sinha then contributes an article attacking the dominant picture of abolitionists a picture of bourgeois reformers burdened by racial paternalism and economic conservatism 23 In fact Sinha writes recent scholarship has shown that women and African Americans were crucial to the overall movement She cites for example the work of Wilson Moses and Tunde Adeleke on black nationalism; Shane White Gary Nash Christopher Phillips and others on black grassroots social activism; and David Blight Robert S Levine Nell Painter Peter Hinks and others on the lives of specific black intellectuals It is now time Sinha writes for a new synthesis of abolition history that will integrate the insights of these scholars 23 38The second section of the book Origins focuses on the continuity of abolitionism between the Revolution and the Civil War This is the longest and most varied part of the book Some authors describe particular spheres of resistance An article by T K Hunter for example explores the Somerset England 1772 and Commonwealth v Aves Massachusetts 1836 cases which illustrate an easily overlooked fact in the decades during which slavery thrived geography was a key element in the operation of the law Slaves discovered that a difference in location could make the difference between liberty and bondage even within a single basic political system 41 58 An article by Richard S Newman then argues that by the 1790s a generation of free black founders such as Richard Allen Absalom Jones James Forten Lemuel Haynes and John Marrant had already fixed the foundations of black abolitionism by establishing autonomous black institutions churches mutual aid societies and so forth and by inaugurating a tradition of print protest 59 79 Timothy Patrick McCarthy then elaborates on the continuing importance of black print culture According to his article black journalism became the driving force behind the transformation of American abolitionism after the 1820s 115 Free northern blacks like Samuel Cornish coeditor of Freedom's Journal established in 1827 and David Walker began to urge the immediate abolition of slavery before William Lloyd Garrison took his public stand 114 44Meanwhile two other articles in this section focus on particular black intellectuals Julie Winch examines the thought of James Forten She argues that he was fundamentally throughout his life a revolutionary; from his service in the American Revolution to his firm denunciation of African colonization Forten stood for a radically egalitarian vision of American society He did so however partly out of fear that America might see a French style terror if fundamental change in race relations did not occur peacefully 80 9 Forten's case contrasts nicely with that of John Brown Russwurm detailed in an article by Sandra Sandiford Young Unlike Forten Russwurm was raised in privilege and came late to the abolitionist cause He became a leader of the movement as coeditor of Freedom's Journal which spoke forcefully against the American Colonization Society Gradually however he grew critical of northern blacks' embarrassing public displays taking a paternal tone and in 1829 he shocked other black leaders by announcing his decision to emigrate to Africa 90 113 According to Young the apostasy of Russwurm actually lent unity to the rest of the movement; he provided other spokespersons with a convenient and visible foe whom they were unafraid to fight allowing them to consolidate their public authority and delineate the boundaries of acceptable black responses to oppression 113 Revolutions the third section of the book centers on the violent climax of antebellum abolitionism John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry First Karl Gridley examines John Brown's career in Kansas arguing that he was part of a large popular antislavery movement there which was fueled by the immigration of militant New England ideologues Gridley suggests therefore that Brown was far from unusual in the intensity of his abolitionist fury and should no longer be treated as a rabid lone killer 147 64 This is also the upshot of an article by Hannah Geffert and Jean Libby who point to evidence that many blacks in the region of Harpers Ferry were willing participants in Brown's attack In Geffert and Libby's eyes Brown was the representative of a radical interracial abolition movement that anticipated and ultimately accepted the violence of the Civil War as necessary to end slavery's evils 165 79The final section of the book Representations examines the embededness of abolitionism in American culture both before the Civil War and in subseuent years An article by Patrick Rael describes how free black activists entered the antebellum public sphere to take on the scientific racism of Louis Aggasiz Samuel Morton and others Black leaders could not ignore racial science he contends and by attacking it directly and indirectly they shaped American public opinion and prepared the way for the intensifying slavery debates of 1848 60 183 99 Julie Roy Jeffrey describes antebellum commemorations of 1 August the abolition of slavery in the West Indies which allowed free blacks to create their own public voice and political culture in defiance of white society 200 19 Dickson D Bruce Jr explores abolitionists' use of printed poetry; he argues that poetry made abolitionism visible and genteel promoted empathy with slaves and communicated a vision of cooperative and sympathetic rather than competitive society 220 34 Augusta Rohrbach claims that Sojourner Truth and Louisa May Alcott were acutely attentive to the demands of the literary market each creating a product in Truth's case especially making a product of herself that would be attractive and compelling to American audiences 235 55 John Stauffer similarly describes how black activists deliberately used printed pictures of themselves and of suffering slaves to inspire sympathy in their audience 256 67 Finally Casey King looks at depictions of abolitionism in American cinema since 1915's The Birth of a Nation He argues that throughout the twentieth century Hollywood's treatment of abolitionism has remained overwhelmingly negative 268 93In keeping with its grand theme therefore Prophets of Protest is a diverse collection of essays Clearly however it tends to support the editors' contention that stories of black abolitionists are now accessible to historical synthesizers and can greatly enrich their work Beyond diversity itself if there is a single clear implication of this collection it is the fact that black contributions can make abolitionism appear especially radical even apocalyptic Paradoxically perhaps this is the very tendency that made abolitionism so controversial in earlier generations inspiring the revisionist collections that inspired this book

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