The Abolitionist Movement

08 Feb The Abolitionist Movement

This month we are focusing on the movements for Black liberation in America. One of the first was the Abolitionist Movement which aimed to end human trafficking from Africa and eradicate the ownership of African and African American people. The transatlantic slave trade began during the 15th century when Portugal, and subsequently other European kingdoms, expanded their reach to Africa. The Portuguese first started to kidnap people from Africa’s west coast and take those they enslaved back to Europe. The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil, followed by the Caribbean. A significant number of enslaved Africans arrived in the American colonies by way of the Caribbean and most spent years recovering from the trauma and harsh realities of the Middle Passage.

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The Abolitionist Movement in North America was led by social reformers. Though most were white, devoutly religious men and women, some of the most powerful and influential members of the movement were African American women and men who escaped bondage. Abolitionists saw slavery as an abomination and an affliction on the United States. They sent petitions to Congress, ran for political office, and inundated people of the South with anti-slavery literature like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin“, which sold over 300,000 copies and elevated their narrative to a national discussion. Abolitionists often faced violent opposition. Their printing presses were smashed, their books burned, and their lives were threatened in North and South. However, through their perseverance, they elevated their cause to end slavery to a critical point.

6 Early Abolitionists

Britain passed its Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, freeing all enslaved people in the British Empire. The British pressured other countries to do the same resulting in them agreeing to end the slave trade from Africa to their countries. But in America, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison, and John Brown were just getting started and would have an uphill battle.

Another Harriet (Tubman) used her wits to lead hundreds of enslaved people to freedom in the North along the route known as the Underground Railroad. She became a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. Tubman worked for the Union Army when the war began, first as a cook and nurse and then an armed scout and spy. Tubman met John Brown in 1858 and helped him plan and recruit supporters for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Many historians believe that even though the Harpers Ferry raid was quashed, it was the springboard for the American Civil War.

“In Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz tells the story of John Brown, a man destined to change history through an uprising that has often gone unmentioned in Civil War stories,”—NPR.

Civil War Timeline

The 13th amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States, passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on January 31, 1865. On February 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of Congress, submitting the proposed amendment to the state legislatures. Finally, on December 16, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified–making slavery in the United States illegal. In addition, African Americans would win the right to vote and receive full citizenship. With these things accomplished, the Abolitionist Movement succeeded in fulfilling its goal and leaves a lasting legacy of the power of organizing.

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