Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America

Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America

Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America

Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America

Synopsis

By exploring the role of Oberlin--the college and the community--in fighting against slavery and for social equality, J. Brent Morris establishes this "hotbed of abolitionism" as the core of the antislavery movement in the West and as one of the most influential reform groups in antebellum America. As the first college to admit men and women of all races, and with a faculty and community comprised of outspoken abolitionists, Oberlin supported a cadre of activist missionaries devoted to emancipation, even if that was through unconventional methods or via an abandonment of strict ideological consistency. Their philosophy was a color-blind composite of various schools of antislavery thought aimed at supporting the best hope of success. Though historians have embraced Oberlin as a potent symbol of egalitarianism, radicalism, and religious zeal, Morris is the first to portray the complete history behind this iconic antislavery symbol.

In this book, Morris shifts the focus of generations of antislavery scholarship from the East and demonstrates that the West's influence was largely responsible for a continuous infusion of radicalism that helped the movement stay true to its most progressive principles.

Excerpt

When the Ohio legislature gathered in Columbus to convene its 1842–43 session, the first pressing order of business was debate over a proposal to revoke the charter of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute. One critic of the school from southern Ohio described the largely abolitionist faculty and students there as a “great maelstrom of seditious faction … exerting a more potent influence in exciting sectional animosities … than any, I may say all, all other malcontent institutions in the U.S.” Other lawmakers seeking revocation called Oberlinites in general a “banditti of lawbreakers,” “negro stealers supported by enemies of this country abroad, and emissaries at home,” and a “thoroughfare for slaves en route to Canada.”

Still, as anti-abolitionist lawmakers heaped abuse upon the name “Oberlin” and sought to crush its spirit through legislation, a small handful of more-sympathetic politicians sought to get beyond the prejudicial cant and vague anecdotes offered up by the school’s detractors. On what specific events or facts, they asked, did critics base their censure? Just what did the conservatives mean by such imprecise terms as “infamous”? “Why Sir,” Oberlin’s harshest critic bellowed matter-of-factly from the floor, “the evidence of the iniquitous character of that institution is as broad as the light of day; and those who control it, glory in their villainy.” He believed it sufficient and damning evidence that “rumor, with her thousand tongues, has published the enormities of that institution all over the State and the Union.” “Such being the fact,” he argued, “it was folly to waste time debating details.”

Despite the abuse, the Oberlin Collegiate Institute did not lose its educational charter that legislative term, nor would it in years to come, and . . .

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