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Enslaved husband and wife abolitionists whose self‐liberation from slavery in Georgia to freedom in England represents one of the most daring escapes from American enslavement. In 1848 light‐skinned Ellen conceived a plan to escape by cutting her hair, donning male clothing, and ‘passing’ as a southern white male slaveholder travelling to the North for medical treatment, while her darker‐skinned husband William posed as a faithful slave valet. After a dangerous journey through the South, the couple reached Boston, where their story of escape made them causes célèbres in abolitionists circles. With the fugitive slave William Wells Brown, the Crafts gave a series of anti‐slavery lectures throughout New England. Their freedom was threatened, however, by the passing of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which provided for the return of fugitive slaves to their masters in the South, and also mandated the assistance of northerners in the fugitives' capture. In November ...

Article

James Sellman

Frederick Douglass was more than a great African American leader. He was, in the words of his biographer William S. McFeely, “one of the giants of nineteenth-century America.” He was a man driven by his anger at injustice, McFeely observed, a man who “never ran away from anything”—except the bondage of slavery. Even in that, he took flight not simply to escape but to engage. After gaining his freedom, the former slave turned in his tracks and confronted the institution head-on.

Douglass played a prominent role in nineteenth-century reform movements, not only through his abolitionism but also in his support for women's rights and black suffrage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he stayed true to his principles, remaining steadfast in his commitment to integration and civil rights. Douglass was militant but never a separatist. He rejected the nationalist rhetoric and latter-day conservatism of black abolitionist Martin Robison Delany ...

Article

David W. Blight

Frederick Douglass lived for twenty years as a slave and nearly nine years as a fugitive slave. From the 1840s to his death in 1895 he attained international fame as an abolitionist, editor, orator, statesman, and the author of three autobiographies that became classics of the slave narrative tradition. Douglass lived to see the Emancipation of the slaves during the Civil War and made a major contribution to interpreting the meaning of those epochal events. He labored for the establishment of black civil rights and witnessed their betrayal during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. He advocated women's rights long before they were achieved.

It took nearly a century after his death for Douglass s work to receive widespread attention in school curriculums and in the scholarly fields of literature and history With the flowering of African American history and culture in the 1960s and a greatly increased attention to slavery ...

Article

Cecily Jones

The first female African‐American author of a fugitive slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). Born in North Carolina to an enslaved mother, who died when Jacobs was aged 6, she then lived with her grandmother and her mistress, from whom she learnt to read and write. Following her mistress's death, Jacobs was sent to Dr James Norcom, who subjected her to prolonged physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. To avoid Norcom's unwanted sexual attentions, Jacobs began a relationship with a white attorney, with whom she had two children.

Hoping that by running away she might persuade Norcom to sell her children to their father, in 1835 Jacobs concealed herself above a storeroom in her grandmother's house, before escaping to the North in 1842. She joined a circle of abolitionists who worked for the North Star, Frederick Douglass's newspaper. In 1853 ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

writer and critic, was born in Nokomis, Alabama, the son of Sudie Graham, a Tuskegee Institute student, and John Young, a businessman. Soon after his birth Mattie Murray, a housewife, and her husband, Hugh, a laborer and timber worker, adopted him. Murray, who later enjoyed a close relationship with Graham and Young, joked of his adoption by less-wealthy parents, “It's just like the prince left among the paupers” (Gates, 30). He learned about the folkways of segregation in Magazine Point, a community on the outskirts of Mobile, Alabama, where his family had moved during World War I. “We didn't dislike white people,” he recalled. “We saw too many bony-butt poor white crackers. We were going to feel inferior to them?” (Maguire, 139). Murray's rejection of any notion of black inferiority was further strengthened by exposure to Mobile's baseball legend Satchel Paige and ...