The Abolition Movement in the United States was a social reform movement to end the practice of slavery that took place during the early to mid-1800s. It was lead by abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and John Brown, and the issue not only divided the country, it divided the movement itself. Between 1861 – 1865, the American Civil War was fought between the Northern and Southern states, and it ended with the abolition of slavery and the dissolution of the Confederate States of America in the South.
The end of the war marked the abolition of the barbaric business of slavery and the beginning of the Reconstruction era but it in no way ended systemic racism that had been deeply ingrained in this country hundreds of years ago. As soon as the war ended and the 13th Amendment was ratified, Black Codes were passed that limited the rights of African Americans and designated “when, where and how formerly enslaved people could work, and for how much compensation.” South Carolina’s Black Codes even called for a “racially separate court system for all civil and criminal cases.”
State and local laws called “Jim Crow laws” were also passed that mandated and enforced racial segregation in all public facilities in the former Confederate States. Jim Crow laws led to the infamous SCOTUS case Plessy v. Ferguson in which SCOTUS ruled “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional. In other words, discrimination was perfectly legal. These laws were enforced as late as 1965!
In addition, the KKK was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, Blacks were still subjected to lynchings, racial hysteria including false allegations of rape, and debt servitude. According to pbs.org, peonage was outlawed in 1867, but it continued all the way into the 1940s.
Below are a few examples of individuals who have gone down in history as prominent abolitionists and anti-slavery activists that Randy Credico has discussed on his WBAI Live on the Fly program or his Assange: Countdown to Freedom show (in alphabetical order). I’ve also added at the end well-known activists that have either appeared on his show or are mentioned often like William Kunstler, Dr, Cornel West, and Anthony Papa.
1929 – present
Harry Belafonte is a Jamaican-American singer and activist who was part of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s. He was a close confidante of Martin Luther King Jr., and once bailed him out of prison. He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and spent decades organizing, raising funds, and taking part in demonstrations.
May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859
John Brown was an American abolitionist who led an anti-slavery movement during the 1854-1859 “Bleeding Kansas” crisis,” a violent civil war between anti-slavery activists (also see the Free Soil Party who opposed the expansion of slavery) and pro-slavery advocates over the decision of whether or not Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state.
In 1858, he met Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson in Boston and a year later he led a raid against the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Both of his sons were killed in the assault and Brown was captured, arrested, tried, and hanged for treason. In the words of Dr. Cornel West, “In the end, his love of oppressed people will live forever.” (See Credico’s Live on the Fly with Dr. Cornel West on the Life and Legacy of John Brown)
Lydia Maria Child
Abolitionist, Native American women’s rights activist
February 11, 1802 – October 20, 1880
Born in Medford, Massachusetts, Child’s was one of the most influential 19th-century American female writers. She wrote “one of the earliest American historical novels, the first comprehensive history of American slavery, and the first comparative history of women.”
Established in 1813
After William Lloyd Garrison held a lecture in Waterville, Maine, students at Colby College “became impassioned with the anti-slavery movement,” and founded the Anti-Slavery Society of Waterville College (prior to the college changing its name to Colby). The organization’s preamble started with, “Believing that all men are born free and equal…” Elijah Parish Lovejoy graduated from Colby College in 1826.
American abolitionist, writer
November 14, 1989 – July 30, 1891
It’s impossible to summarize Douglass’ life in one paragraph. He was a prominent abolitionist who escaped slavery in 1838, and rose to become the “father of the civil rights movement.” He was a close associate of John Brown and he dedicated his life to fighting for equality for African Americans, women and minority groups.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
American poet, abolitionist, lecturer
May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882
It may come as a surprise to learn that Emerson was more than just a poet. He was an abolitionist who also fought against U.S. imperialism in Mexico and according to Dr. Cornel West, he was drawn to John Brown because of his “integrity, sincerity, moral tenacity, and a certain kind of single-mindedness.” West also noted that Emerson’s calling was to be a man of action by putting words down on a page while supporting those willing to lay down their lives. (See Credico’s Live on the Fly with Dr. Cornel West on the Life and Legacy of John Brown)
William Lloyd Garrison
December 10, 1805 – May 24, 1879
In 1830, William Garrison founded the abolitionist paper, The Liberator, whose motto was “Our country is the world—our countrymen are mankind.” He also organized the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1932, and was a member of John Brown’s “Secret Six” (see below).
American journalist, author, editor, historian, abolitionist
June 28, 1807 – July 11, 1865
Richard Hildreth was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts. His father spent several years as a professor until he was called to work as a minister in Gloucester, Massachusetts which, if you ever find yourself there, is a fantastic, quaint little town along the East coast. In 1834, Hildreth wrote an anti-slavery novel entitled “The Slave: or Memoir of Archy Moore,” and in 1854, he published “Despotism in America: An Inquiry Into the Nature, Results, and Legal Basis of the Slave-Holding System in the United States.”
Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Minister, journalist, editor, abolitionist
November 9, 1802 – November 7, 1837
Lovejoy was also from the East Coast and as noted earlier, was a graduate of Colby College. At some point he moved to Missouri where he was ordained a minister and courageously took an anti-slavery stance in front of his own congregation. After his printing press was attacked (for the third time), he moved to Alton, Illinois where he started an abolitionist newspaper called the Alton Observer. On November 7, 1837, he was gunned down by a pro-slavery mob.
Reverend Thomas Parker
August 24, 1810 – May 10, 1860
Parker was born in Lexington, Massachusetts, became a Unitarian minister, and is the man behind the original quote, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
Dr. Cornel West described him as “determined to do whatever he could to end slavery in the United States.” (See Credico’s Live on the Fly with Dr. Cornel West on the Life and Legacy of John Brown)
Politician, philanthropist, abolitionist
March 4, 1853 – August 7, 1854
According to NPR, Smith was a “nationally prominent and influential abolitionist and social reformer who played a critical role in the operation of the Underground Railroad.” Born in Utica, New York, Smith also ran for president of the United States in 1848, 1856, and 1860. Clearly the country was not ready for the likes of someone like him who ended up serving in Congress as a representative of the Free Soil Party (see John Brown above). He was also a member of the Secret Six.
“The Secret Six”
The “Secret Six” was a group of abolitionists that “offered financial support to John Brown and the insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Members were Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Gerrit Smith, and George Luther Stearns. According to masshitst.org, they were all active in the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Author and abolitionist
June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896
Born in Connecticut and the 6th of eleven children, Harriet eventually moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where she was appointed president of Lane Theological Seminary. She published 30 books including Uncle Tom’s Cabin and once wrote, “There is more done with pens than with swords.” You can find out more about her life at harrietbeecherstowecenter.org.
Henry David Thoreau
Poet, essayist, abolitionist
July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862
Like Emerson, you might be surprised to learn that Thoreau was also an abolitionist and an “ardent and outspoken” one at that. He was actively involved in the Underground Railroad and was sticking it to the man as early as 1846, when he was jailed for failing to pay a poll tax as a form of protest against slavery while living at Walden Pond. According to ConcordLibrary.org, he was also a fan of John Brown and a “captain of a Kansas militia company determined to keep Kansas a free state and, in 1859, leader of a raid on a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.” After Brown was hanged, Thoreau’s “The Last Days of John Brown” was read at the memorial service”… (more).
September 28, 1796 – August 6, 1830
Born in North Carolina, Walker eventually settled in Boston where he published a radical new vision for the movement in an 1829 pamphlet entitled, “An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World,” that encouraged Blacks to fight against slavery. Although some denounced Walker for advocating violence, according to the David Walter Memorial Project, he “pushed other abolitionists to be bolder and more radical in their thinking and actions.”
— Other Activists —
American lawyer, civil rights activist
July 7, 1919 – September 4, 1991
William Kunstler was an American attorney remembered for defending the Chicago Seven. He was a board member of the ACLU, the co-founder of the Law Center for Constitutional Rights, and at times, controversial in his undertakings such as representing Joe Bonanno, John Gotti, and Omar Abdel-Rahman (“the Blind Sheik”). One of the best speeches you’ll ever hear was given by Kunstler in February 1970. “The Terrible Myth”:
Artist, author, activist
June 6, 1960 – present
Anthony Papa is the co-founder of the organization Mothers of the New York Disappeared. Prior to becoming an activist, Papa was arrested and charged under New York’s strict drug laws for delivering an envelope that, unknown to him, held 4.5 ounces of cocaine. He served 12 years in prison before former NY governor, George Pataki, granted him clemency. In 2016, he was granted a pardon from Governor Cuomo.
In 1997, he founded The Mothers of the New York Disappeared with Randy Credico and the organization became the leading movement against New York’s draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. He has made numerous appearances on national television advocating against the war on drugs and was interviewed by Credico here: 2016 interview.
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