The abolitionist movement in the United States sought to eradicate slavery using a wide range of tactics and organizations. The antislavery movement mobilized many African Americans and some whites who sought to end the institution of slavery. Although both black and white abolitionists often worked together, the relationship between them was intricate. The struggle for black abolitionists was much more personal because they wanted to end slavery and also wanted to gain equal rights for blacks.
However, many white abolitionists only sought to end slavery and did not fight for equality for blacks. From these exceedingly contrasting perspectives and the continuation of slavery, the sentiment of many abolitionists became more militant and radical; some abolitionists began to use more violent methods of resistance to abolish slavery. Before the 1830s most antislavery activists stressed gradual emancipation. These feelings were expressed mainly by Southern whites, some possessing a fear of free blacks not being ready for freedom and others holding beliefs that slavery would gradually disappear (Notes, 10/18/00). Generally, only black abolitionists demanded an immediate end to slavery. This difference in opinion contributed to some blacks taking more violent measures to gain freedom and equality. Further contributing to the more aggressive tactics were the goals of the white abolitionists. Many white abolitionists were not able to accept blacks as their equals and did not fight for black equality, which led to increased tension between blacks and whites.
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More militant tactics, such as uprising and revolts, were gaining support in the nineteenth century. Nat Turner was a black abolitionist that supported the use of aggressive and forceful tactics. In 1831, in Virginia, he led an insurrection and more than 55 white people were killed. It was very bloody and violent and angered many whites from its brutality (Nash, 275). Yet, many blacks felt that the only thing that would get a response was an uprising and taking drastic measures. In Christiana, Pennsylvania, the Fugitive Slave Laws were passed.
These laws stated that whites could recapture their runaway slaves. Blacks were outraged by the passing of these laws and rioted in response to this (Roots of Resistance). This demonstrated how blacks would react in manners that were more forceful and these tactics were used by a number of other abolitionists, however, many still used different approaches to battling slavery. Many abolitionists used writing to end slavery. In 1827, the first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, was created by Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm (Notes, 11/29/00). This paper spread ideas of freedom and equality and gave hope to the black readers.
David Walker, the son of a free black mother and a slave father, pushed the abolitionist movement into militancy in 1829 when he published David Walker’s Appeal. His work inspired blacks to organize and urged slaves to rise up against their masters and take their freedom by force (Notes, 11/27/00). Even with tensions high, some abolitionists still advocated a non-violent approach. William Lloyd Garrison, a white abolitionist, published The Liberator in 1831 in Boston.
This was a radical anti-slavery newspaper that was successful from the tremendous black support. Garrison favoured a non-violent approach that advocated the immediate emancipation of slaves and equality for all blacks (Notes, 11/27/00). Along with newspapers, several organizations were created in response to the injustices. Garrison helped to form the American Anti-Slavery Society along with Arthur and Lewis Tappan. This organization wanted an immediate end to slavery and equality for all blacks in American society. It distributed over one million pamphlets dealing with anti-slavery and was able to organize men, women and children.
The society grew and by 1840, it had 200,000 members (Notes, 11/27/00). Most blacks remained loyal to Garrison, although in the 1840s many blacks became more independent. They were more critical of white abolitionist and their racism and prejudice. Blacks recognized that many white abolitionists were against slavery but not for equal rights because they still possessed racist views.
In the 1840s, a new group of black leaders emerges the radical fugitive slaves (Notes, 11/29/00). These fugitive slaves began lecturing and telling their stories. Frederick Douglass, an eloquent ex-slave from Maryland, denounced ideas of violent rebellions. He published several books, Narrative and My Bondage and My Freedom, which shared his story and his views on the importance of equality for blacks. The sharing of stories was common among these new black leaders.
By sharing a story, it gave the listeners a chance to relate to occurrences in their lives (Notes, 11/27/00). These leaders would tell audiences their experiences while in slavery and how they gained their freedom. Their stories were used to give hope and inspiration to others. Through their experiences, they showed the evils of slavery. The struggle for emancipation and equality was extremely difficult. All abolitionists wanted an end to slavery, but oftentimes only blacks wanted equality in society.
The different goals led to different methods of obtaining these goals. Some methods of black abolitionists became much more radical and violent to end slavery. This was a direct reaction to the racism of many white abolitionists. Even with different methods, the outcome of the effort was freedom for the slaves and eventual equality for blacks.
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