The Abolitionist Movement
The abolitionist movement was an international movement that wanted to end slavery forever. In America alone, thousands of people during the 19th century were involved. Also, the movement was multiracial and black people acted courageously in the movement too. There were abolitionists in the Americas, England, France, Africa, and throughout the Earth as slavery existed in the four corners of the Earth. The abolitionist movement had many groups. Some abolitionists wanted slavery to end gradually and some wanted to end as soon as possible. Some didn’t want to be involved in political affairs and some wanted to be involved in political matters. Some were conservative or moderate and other abolitionists were progressive (in desiring not just an end to slavery, but racial equality in general including the liberation of women). So, the diversity of the abolitionist movement must be understood fully in understanding this great social movement. First, the international slave trade was a capitalist enterprise that abused the human rights of black people including other human beings. Slavery was used in the North and the South. The Portuguese started the modern Maafa during the late 1400’s. Since the 1400’s, black people and non-black people opposed slavery. In 1526, the San Miguel de Gualdape rebellion existed. This was when Africans rebelled against the Spanish colonists for freedom and liberation. The famous Gaspa Yanga revolt happened in ca. 1570 in Mexico (near the city of Veracruz). The group of Gaspa Yanga and his allies escaped into the highlands and created a free colony. In 1633, there was the Gloucester County, Virginia revolt. Slaves fought for freedom in New York State in 1712 and in 1741. The Stono Rebellion happened in the colony of South Carolina in September 9, 1739. It was the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies, with 42-47 whites and 44 blacks killed. The uprising was led by native Africans who were likely from the Central African Kingdom of Kongo. Some of the rebels spoke Portuguese. Their leader Jemmy was a literate slave; in some reports he is referred to as "Cato", and likely was held by the Cato, or Cater, family who lived near the Ashley River and north of the Stono River. He led 20 other enslaved Kongolese, who may have been former soldiers, in an armed march south from the Stono River (for which the rebellion is named). They were bound for Spanish Florida. It was suppressed by the British forces.
Slavery was illegal in Rhode Island in 1652. In February 18, 1688, the Memmonites of Germantown, Pennsylvania held their monthly meeting and drafted resolutions to oppose slavery. James Otis in 1761 gave a speech that called for the immediate abolition of slavery. In 1774, the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (or the Quakers) adopted new rules to their members to not own slaves and not to participate in the slave trade. Benjamin Rush was a young physician and a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress. He helped to organize the 1775 Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society formed in Philadelphia, was the first abolition society within the territory that is now the United States of America. Many rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized slavery for violating human rights like James Edward Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe banned slavery in the Province of Georgia on humanistic grounds, argued against it in Parliament, and eventually encouraged his friends Granville Sharp and Hannah More to vigorously pursue the cause. Soon after his death in 1785, Sharp and More joined with William Wilberforce and others in forming the Clapham Sect. Many in early America banned the slave trade, but slavery still existed all over America. By the early 1800’s, many Northern states would ban slavery.
Olaudah Equiano was a great black man who fought against the slave trade and against slavery in the United Kingdom. He was a writer and a social activist. His autobiography, published in 1789 and attracting wide attention, was considered highly influential in gaining passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807, which ended the African trade for Britain and its colonies. In London, Equiano (identifying as Gustavus Vassa during his lifetime) was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of prominent Africans living in Britain, and he was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s. He published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), which depicted the horrors of slavery. Since 1967, his memoir has been regarded as the "true beginning of modern African literature." WIlliam Wilberforce and Sam Sharpe including other fought to end slavery in the UK. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 banned slavery in the UK and in all British colonies. In 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was formed. This was created to fight slavery worldwide. The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society campaigned to outlaw slavery in other countries and pressured the British government to do more to enforce the suppression of the slave trade by declaring slave traders to be pirates and pursuing them as such. It is in operation today as Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation.
Haiti and the early Abolitionist Movement
The year of 1804 changed the world forever. This was the time when the Haitian evolution was successful. Haiti during that year became the first black Republic of the Americas. The Haitian people defeated the French, the Spanish, and the English in order for them to establish their own nation and create independence.
By 1810, 75 percent of black people in Delaware were freed. The white abolitionist movement before 1830 had a large number of whites who wanted a gradual end to slavery via piecemeal efforts and gradualism. This was of course was not justice at all. Many of these proponents of gradualism were conservatives and they compromised.
Abolition societies and organizations were spread in the Midwest, the North, and in the South during the 19th century. Many abolitionists from New York to Kansas experienced harassment, assault, their houses burned, and even murder. Yet, the abolitionist movement continued. Davis Walker was a black abolitionist who early on fought for black freedom. He wrote his famous anti-slavery literature called “Appeal” in 1829. He supported “Freedom’s Journal” which was the first black-owned newspaper in America. He lived in Boston and and he promoted black unity and self help in fighting injustice and oppression. He was Boston’s leading spokesman against slavery back then. His “Appeal” opposed the policy of deporting black people to Liberia (Walker targeted groups like the American Colonization Society which wanted all free black people to go into Liberia). He criticized Thomas Jefferson because of his racist anti-black views. David Walker passed away in 1830. Additions of his Appeal were found in Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, and throughout America. His son Edward G. Walker was one of the first two black men elected to the Massachusetts State Legislature. In 1831, Nat Turner led his slavery revolt in Southampton County, Virginia. He was against tyranny and he was captured and executed in Courtland, Virginia. By 1840, the Liberty Party was created. It ran Presidential candidates in the 1840 and 1844 elections. In 1850, the evil Compromise of 1850 was established including the Fugitive Slave Act (that allowed people to kidnap black people from anywhere in America and be forced into slavery unjustly). The growth of the Underground Railroad existed in the 19th century.
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad was network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century enslaved people of African descent in the United States in efforts to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives. Various other routes led to Mexico or overseas. An "Underground Railroad" running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until shortly after the American Revolution. By 1850, about 100,000 slaves were freed via the Underground Railroad. Its peak was between 1830 and 1865. The North star was code for the North or Canada where many black people came into. Great leaders of the Underground Railroad were Harriet Tubman, Levi Coffin.
The Diversity of the Abolitionist Movement
Henry Highland Garnet was another black man who was influenced by David Walker’s views. Garnet wanted an end to oppression. At first, he opposed emigration policies and then alter he supported black people going into Africa. Martin Delany was a person who opposed the American Colonization Society and at fist opposed emigration. Later, he was one of the strongest proponents of emigration within the lack abolitionist movement. He wanted to set up a nation (which is similar to black nationalist thinking). In fact, some people consider the abolitionist Martin R. Delany (who was in Harvard Medical School) as the father of Black Nationalism. He visited Africa before and he opposed the Liberia nation in the early 1800’s as a weak example of colonization. Martin wanted black people to leave America and form a new nation in the West Indies or South America. Martin Delany would be the only black officer who had the rank of Major as a Union Army soldier during the Civil War too.
Frederick Douglas was a very well known black abolitionist. He was born a slave in 1817. His autobiography is a must read to people of a wide spectrum of ages. At age 16, he escaped from slavery and became a lifelong abolitionist and social activist. He opposed slavery and fought for women’s rights too. His own newspaper was the North Star. He advocated freedom and armed resistance against slavery. During this time, William Lloyd Garrison was another promoter of immediate emancipation. Garrison once supported colonization temporarily, publicly apologized for his mistake, and continue with the fight to end slavery. He co-founded the weekly anti-slavery newspaper in 1831 from New England called the Liberator. His friend Isaac Knapp helped to create the newspaper too.
By the 1830’s, the abolitionist movement became more radicalized. Garrison and Frederick Douglas were friends. Each wanted the same goal. Yet, they disagreed on the tactics to end it. Frederick Douglas wanted armed resistance and political involvement to end slavery while Garrison wanted no physical force in ending slavery. Garrison denounced churches, political parties, even voting. He also believed that the U.S. Constitution was a pro-slavery document. Frederick Douglas didn’t want the break up or he didn't want the dissolution of the Union while Garrison wanted the break up of the Union. Douglas felt that slavery can be abolished in America without breaking up the Union. Frederick Douglas went overseas to speak about slavery in Canada and in England. Williams Garrison was a promoter of women’s rights and he supported women involvement in the abolitionist movement as well.
Frederick Douglas evolved in his thinking. He believed in political actions, he rejected emigration, and he wanted self-defense to fight against slavery. His famous 1852 speech about the Fourth of July exposed the hypocrisy of American society. He promoted struggle to end slavery. Other famous black abolitionists include Charles Henry Langston and John Mercer Langston, who helped found the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society.
Other unsung heroes of the abolitionist movement were human beings like Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, the Grimké sisters--Angelina and Sarah, J. W. C. Pennington, William Still (whose daughter Caroline V. Still Anderson was a great black physician), and other human beings opposed oppression.
Abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. The story exposed the brutality of slavery and the character Uncle Tom ironically was the hero in the story. The story was so popular that President Abraham Lincoln heard about it. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" caused more people in the North and across the world to be up in arms and oppose slavery. Yet, the evil Southern racists were strident in trying to defend slavery.
In 1854, there was the passage of Kansas-Nebraska Act which determined the status of slavery in these two territories (of Kansas and Nebraska)
according to the principle of “popular sovereignty.”
Frederick Douglas' friend John Brown would advance this courageous resistance against tyranny. Douglass had aided John Brown by offering him a place to stay and raising funds to equip his men with uniforms and ammunition. John Brown greatly opposed slavery and he has many black allies. He was an anti-slavery fighter in Kansas when Kansas has a battle between pro and anti-slavery forces during the 1850’s. That is where the term “Bleeding Kansas” came from. In 1859, James Brown had 18 other armed men to fight in Harpers’ Ferry, Virginia. John Brown wanted to organize an insurrection at the Ferry, so more slaves can rebel in the South (and soon slavery would end in America). His raid failed and John Brown plus his allies were executed. John Brown kissed a black child before he was executed. John Brown acted against tyranny and sacrificed his life for the cause of human justice. After John Brown’s death, the abolitionist movement continued and the Civil War began in 1861.
The last country to abolish legal slavery was Mauritania, where it was officially abolished by presidential decree in 1981. Slavery existed worldwide and abolitionists fought to abolish slavery worldwide too. Slavery was abolished in the French Republic in February 4, 1794. Slavery was abolished all over the French empire during the French Revolution of 1848 (with the efforts of Victor Schœlcher and others). The Trans-Atlantic slave trade completely ends by 1859. Slavery is abolished in the Indian Territory or Oklahoma today in 1866. People ended slavery in Puerto Rico in 1873. In 1822, the Ottoman firman abolishes all forms of slavery regardless if the slave was black or white. Slavery ended in Cuba in 1886. Brazil bans slavery in 1888. In 1906, China ends slavery effective January 31, 1910. The 1926 Slavery Convention, an initiative of the League of Nations, was a turning point in banning global slavery. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the UN General Assembly, explicitly banned slavery. The United was convened to outlaw and ban slavery worldwide, including child slavery. In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was developed from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 4 of this international treaty bans slavery. The treaty came into force in March 1976 after it had been ratified by 35 nations. The last nation on Earth to ban slavery was Mauritania in 1981 and it was made a crime in Mauritania in 2007. Slavery is illegal in all countries. Yet, slavery continues to exist in the 21st century. It is estimated that about 21 to 29 million slaves exist worldwide. Modern slavery is a worldwide business worth with estimates up to $35 billion. The slave trade industry is evil. The Global Slavery Index 2013 states that 10 nations account for 76 percent of the world's enslaved. India has the most slaves of any country, at 14 million (over 1% of the population). China has the second-largest number with 2.9 million slaves, followed by Pakistan with 2.1 million, Nigeria with 701,000, Ethiopia with 651,000, Russia with 516,000, Thailand with 473,000, Congo with 462,000, Myanmar with 384,000, and Bangladesh with 343,000. Mauritania still has slavery when slavery is illegal there too. Modern slavery exists in different forms like forced labor, forced marriage, sex slavery, human trafficking, forced migrant labor, bonded labor, and other evil actions. There are many organizations that are fighting against modern slavery, human trafficking, etc. They include 3Strands, 5-Stones, the A21 Campaign, Abolish Slavery Coalition, Abolition International, Abolition Now, Against Child Trafficking (ACT), Agape International Missions, Anti-Slavery International, etc. We won’t stop until slavery and any injustice is gone from the Earth.