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Abolitionists Remember

Abolitionists Remember: Antislavery Autobiographies and the Unfinished Work of Emancipation

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Abolitionists Remember
    Book Description:

    InAbolitionists Remember, Julie Roy Jeffrey illuminates a second, little-noted antislavery struggle as abolitionists in the postwar period attempted to counter the nation's growing inclination to forget why the war was fought, what slavery was really like, and why the abolitionist cause was so important.In the rush to mend fences after the Civil War, the memory of the past faded and turned romantic--slaves became quaint, owners kindly, and the war itself a noble struggle for the Union. Jeffrey examines the autobiographical writings of former abolitionists such as Laura Haviland, Frederick Douglass, Parker Pillsbury, and Samuel J. May, revealing that they wrote not only to counter the popular image of themselves as fanatics, but also to remind readers of the harsh reality of slavery and to advocate equal rights for African Americans in an era of growing racism, Jim Crow, and the Ku Klux Klan. These abolitionists, who went to great lengths to get their accounts published, challenged every important point of the reconciliation narrative, trying to salvage the nobility of their work for emancipation and African Americans and defending their own participation in the great events of their day.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0227-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1874 , John Greenleaf Whittier, one of the poets of the abolitionist movement, contributed an article to theAtlantic Monthlyin which he recalled the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society(AAS) forty-one years earlier. The small group forming this organization, one of the most important bodies committed to eliminating American slavery, realized that it was probably undertaking what Whittier called a “life-long struggle.” The idea of ending slavery, of course, threatened existing political, social, and economic arrangements, and it would take three decades of agitation and four years of war before the AAS’S goals of providing freedom to the...

  6. RITUAL REMEMBRANCES I: The Dissolution of the Antislavery Societies

    • The Dissolution of the Antislavery Societies
      (pp. 11-24)

      In 1865, only weeks after the Civil War’s end, reform, religious, and benevolent organizations held their annual meetings in New York City. Long one of the high points of the benevolent and reform calendar, Anniversary Week, as it was called, had traditionally drawn throngs of outsiders to the city. Conversations and debates with old and new acquaintances, the transaction of society business, and attendance at one or more society meetings provided fellowship, information, direction, and excitement for supporters of benevolent causes. In the aftermath of war, Anniversary Week in 1865 was “celebrated with unusual vigor,” although the editor ofHarper’s...

    • CHAPTER 1 The First Recollections
      (pp. 25-60)

      WhenHarper’seditor George W. Curtis described the 1865 debate within the American Anti-Slavery Society over the question of disbandment, he saw the success of those wishing to continue the Society as “a victory of sentiment” by a group that was out of touch with reality. What Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, Samuel J. May, and the new Executive Board of the aas “seemed to forget,” Curtis affirmed, was “that the whole country is now an anti-slavery society.”¹

      The easy confidence that abolitionists had achieved their goals and that the northern public had embraced them persisted for a few years, at...

    • CHAPTER 2 Fugitives as Part of Abolitionist History
      (pp. 61-96)

      In 1870 and 1871,Harper’s Weeklyfeatured an advertisement for plaster statuary suitable for display in genteel parlors. The piece pictured, created by the popular sculptor John Rogers, was called “The Fugitive’s Story” and featured a female fugitive slave recounting her adventures to several well-known abolitionists, including John G. Whittier and William Lloyd Garrison, who had posed for the artist. Rogers had proven to be very successful at producing small plaster groupings on subjects that attracted middle-class buyers. In 1859 he had appealed to antislavery sentiment with his piece “The Slave Auction.” After enjoying success with many Civil War pieces...


    • Reunions
      (pp. 97-110)

      Soon after the antislavery societies disbanded, abolitionists began to gather to commemorate their long years in the antislavery struggle, to regain the sense of camaraderie that reform commitments had once provided, and to ensure that their memories lived on in the hearts and minds of a new generation. In 1874, western abolitionists held what they hoped would be the first of many reunions in Chicago. A year later, members of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, an organization that had resisted the rush to dissolution, held a meeting to commemorate 100 years of activism.At both meetings, speakers laid...

      (pp. 111-154)

      As William Still was completingThe Underground Rail Road,he received a letter inquiring whether his book would include accounts of Underground Railroad activities in Illinois and Missouri, stories the writer believed were among the most “thrilling” fugitive tales.¹ Still was in no position to provide information on the workings of the midwestern network so far from his own base in Philadelphia and had “deemed it best . . . to confine himself to facts coming within his personal knowledge, and to the records of his own preserving.” Even with this limited focus, however, Still found himself having to omit...

    • CHAPTER 4 Defending the Past THE 1880s
      (pp. 155-202)

      In 1887, a story titled “Mrs. Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’ at Home in Kentucky” appeared in Century magazine. An illustration showing a slave owner reaching into his pocket for coins for three black boys captured the spirit of the piece. The author, James Lane Allen, had grown up in Kentucky and suffered through the years of war and Reconstruction. Now he looked back fondly on the past, depicting slavery in Kentucky as a benign institution.“Tenderly associated” from infancy with black slaves, kindly masters sought to transform their blacks into capable and contented workers all the while caring for those who were...


    • The Last Gatherings
      (pp. 203-216)

      December held a special place in the prewar antislavery calendar. It was during this month in 1833 that the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) was founded, a milestone event in the movement for immediate emancipation. December was also the month during which the Philadelphia and Boston female antislavery societies hosted their great annual fairs. These festive bazaars had raised money for antislavery work, but just as important, they had provided opportunities for abolitionists to assess their progress toward emancipation, to renew friendships, and to see and hear from leading men and women of the movement. They helped to create a sense...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Remembrance Is Like a Dream REMINISCENCES OF THE 1890s
      (pp. 217-246)

      Surviving abolitionists who had hoped to eliminate both slavery and racial prejudice and also to provide free blacks with civil rights must have found the 1890s a depressing decade.¹ Even the words that once signi-fied deep moral and racial commitments were losing old meanings. Century’s editor hailed civil service reformers as modern abolitionists who had created a new emancipation proclamation freeing “political slaves.” The comparison diminished the meaning and achievements of emancipation.²

      Black slavery was gone, it was true. But without land, many black sharecroppers were trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty that made a mockery of their...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 247-254)

    Mary Grew had never undertaken to write the story of her life. But she did compose the history of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and participate in the process of collective reminiscences when she attended antislavery reunions. At the age of seventy-nine, she was still appearing and speaking in public. She told her old friend Elizabeth Gay in 1893 that she had gone to a meeting of Philadelphia’s New Century Club, “where reminiscences of Anti-Slavery days were told to a large audience by Dr. Furness, Harriet Purvis & myself. How new & strange & exciting it was to most of...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 255-302)
    (pp. 303-324)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 325-337)