Witness for Freedom: African American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation

By C. Peter Ripley; Roy E. Finkenbine et al. | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

THE RISE OF BLACK ABOLITIONISM

On a brisk December morning in 1833, sixty-two reformers from eleven northern states gathered in Philadelphia to transform the American antislavery movement. Ignoring threats of violence, they opened their proceedings at Adelphi Hall to a skeptical public and an unfriendly press. The founding convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) brought together Quakers, Protestant clergymen, and distinguished reformers, including three blacks: Robert Purvis, a handsome, urbane young Philadelphian who, despite his light complexion, proudly identified himself as an African American; James G. Barbadoes, a Boston clothier and barber; and James McCrummill, a barber and dentist, who provided accommodations for the tempestuous young editor of the Boston Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison. After the first day-long session, Garrison retired to McCrummill's comfortable Philadelphia home a few blocks away on Third Street. With an oil lamp burning through the night, he worked intently on a draft of the society's Declaration of Sentiments. The delegates debated the draft during the following sessions, and on 6 December, the final day of the convention, they came forward to sign the document, just as the Founding Fathers had signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia fifty-seven years before.

The AASS Declaration of Sentiments represented an interracial consensus on goals and methods of the antislavery movement. It called for an immediate end to slavery without compensation for slave owners and rejected violence and the use of force, trusting instead in "the overthrow of prejudice by the power of love--and the abolition of slavery by the spirit of repentance." The declaration repudiated the colonization movement's plan to remove all free blacks to Africa as "delusive, cruel and dangerous."

By addressing the issues of prejudice, slavery, and colonization, the Declaration of Sentiments gave voice to the primary concerns of African Americans. Freeing the two million slaves and ending the racism that contaminated American society were long-sought goals, but colonization had been the most pressing concern of free blacks throughout the decade preceding the Philadelphia convocation.

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