Reform - The Black Abolitionists
When discussing the abolition of slavery, and the abolitionists that worked tirelessly and sacrificially to bring about its end, one seldom if ever hears about the significant part Africans played in securing their own freedom. The truth of the matter is that Africans were resisting from the very moment they were captured: they were abolitionists from their first day in captivity.
We all know of the work of William Wilberforce and the “Clapham Sect”, Granville Sharp, Benjamin Lundy, Hannah More and others, names that trip easily off the tongue, but what of the affected people themselves, what were they doing? The answer to that question is everything humanely possible, both slaves and so called “free blacks” were at the frontline of the liberation struggle, they would do whatever it took to bring about the amelioration of their condition. Of course some names of black abolitionists like the great Frederick Douglass, (Feb. 1818 – Feb. 20, 1895), Henry Highland Garnett (Dec. 23, 1815 – Feb. 13, 1882) and Martin Robison Delany (May 6, 1812 – Jan. 24, 1885) are more widely known than others, yet not given the reverence they deserve.
Martin Delany for example is considered to be the grandfather of Black nationalism., and was among the first three black men or women to study at Harvard Medical School, however white students had a petition demanding that they not be accepted, and they were not. Delaney also worked alongside Frederick Douglass to publish the North Star and was active in recruiting blacks for the United States Coloured Troops, for which he was commissioned as a major, the first African-American field officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War. He was politically active and also a prolific writer of pamphlets, articles and books. His response to Harriet Beecher Stowes’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, called The Huts of America, the first novel by a black man to be published in the United States, portrayed the journey of a black insurrectionist’s travels through slave communities. He was of the opinion that Stowe’s novel had portrayed slaves as too passive and weak, he did however praise her for highlighting the cruelty of southern slave holders.
Delaney was indicative of the black abolitionists, in that he wasn’t asking for freedom or meekly petitioning for it, but demanding it! In this there is no doubt that he would have benefitted from the work of a predecessor, David Walker. Walker, a free black man, whose pamphlet “The Appeal” was considered to be the most incendiary anti slave narrative in the history of the United States, the tone of which was a cocktail of moral ethics and messianic deliverance, had laid the foundation and influence for future civil rights activists in the 20th century. Add to the pantheon of “Great Abolitionists”, the names of Gabriel Prosser, Samuel Cornish, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Charles Henry Langston, Harriet Jacobs, John P. Parker and many others too numerous for the scope of this paper.
Khareem Jamal is an historian, musician, author and playwright and is a trustee of MJR.
 David Walker's is one of the stories (along with Harriet Tubman and Joseph Bologne) told in the stage production 'The Voices of Black Folk', written by Khareem Jamal. Watch a trailer here.