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Christopher Campbell

London‐born poet, printer, visionary, and ‘prophet against empire’. Over the course of his lifetime Blake confronted the horrors of slavery through his literary and pictorial art. He was able both to counter pro‐slavery propaganda and to complicate typical abolitionist verse and sentiment with a profound and unique exploration of the effects of enslavement and the varied processes of empire.

Blake's poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Innocence (1789 examines the mind forg d manacles of racial constructions in the minds of individuals both in the poem itself in the form of the black child and his white counterpart and also in the minds of those involved in the political dispute over abolition Seeming to explain a desire for racial acceptance and spiritual purity through assimilation into white British society and seeming also to be endorsing conventional assumptions of white racial superiority the poem ...

Article

Kimberly A. Sisson

poet, clubwoman, and political activist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Mary Evans and Joshua T. Williams, whose occupation is now unknown. In 1870 the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Mary Evans opened a successful wig-making business that operated for over twenty years. Carrie Williams attended the first integrated school in Columbus; whether she pursued higher education is unknown, however it is known that during the 1880s she taught in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

In 1886, at the age of twenty-four, she married William H. Clifford, a two-term Republican state representative from Cleveland. They would have two sons. As part of the black middle class in Cleveland, Clifford and her husband socialized with other important black figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and George A. Meyers. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois made frequent appearances in Cleveland joining the Cliffords ...

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David Dabydeen

Englishpoet who wrote and lectured against slavery. Coleridge's first major poem was a Greek ode against the slave trade, which won him the Browne Gold Medal at Cambridge University. He was to write, ‘my Greek ode is, I think, my chef d’œuvre in poetical composition'. Coleridge was inspired by the anti‐slavery writings of Thomas Clarkson, and in the 1790s, along with his friend and fellow poet Robert Southey, began campaigning against the slave trade. During this period Coleridge actively lectured around England, particularly in the West Country and in Bristol, where he received his first audience. When Coleridge and Southey lived at Upper College Street, Bristol, in 1795 they were surrounded by neighbours who had either had significant seafaring careers or had been captains of slave ships One of them for instance was the captain of a ship that was bound for the Jamaican sugar ...

Article

W. Farrell O'Gorman

author, teacher, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boardinghouse owner who was known as an avid reader, and Martha Vaughn. Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African heritage. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught her son to read and enrolled him in school. When he was eight, however, economic necessity forced him to drop out of school to begin work at various jobs, first in a brickyard, then in a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter's life.

The friendship of the prominent black Louisville educator William T. Peyton who sensed Cotter ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Englishpoet who lent his pen to the anti‐slavery cause. Cowper was a supporter of international commerce, which he saw, idealistically, as the means by which mankind could share in God's bounty. In his poem Charity (1782), trade is described as ‘the golden girdle of the globe’, and Cowper writes of the ‘genial intercourse’ between nations effected by 18th‐century mercantile activity. The slave trader, however, betrays the principle of mutuality underpinning international commerce and brings shame to a Christian nation such as Great Britain (‘Canst thou, and honour'd with a Christian name | Buy what is woman‐born, and feel no shame?’). Religion apart, the slave trader also betrays the spirit of the age, its growing championing of liberty. To Cowper, the existence of slavery calls into question the very nature of humanity:

Then what is man? And what man, seeing this

And having human feelings does not blush ...

Article

Donna Tyler Hollie

educator, social worker, community activist, and poet, was born in Port Deposit, Maryland, the fourth child of Caleb Alexander and Mary Jane Driver Collins, free African Americans. By 1870 the family was living in Baltimore, where her father worked in a lumberyard and her mother, as did many African American women of the era, worked as a laundress in her home. Collins may have attended a public school, which Baltimore established for African Americans in 1867, or one of numerous private schools that had served Baltimore's black community since the early nineteenth century. She enrolled in the Hampton Institute at age fourteen and graduated in 1882 as salutatorian. At New York University she earned a degree in social work sometime around 1904. She probably chose NYU because African Americans could not enroll in professional schools in the segregated Maryland–Washington, D.C., area.

Collins like most ...

Article

Julie Winch

abolitionist, businessman, and Civil War soldier, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fifth of nine children of James Forten, a sailmaker and Revolutionary War veteran, and Charlotte Vandine. He was named for the white craftsman who befriended his father and gave him his start in business. Of his siblings, Margaretta Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, Sarah Forten Purvis, James Forten Jr., and William Forten became active in the antislavery movement. Robert Forten received his early education at a school his parents and other affluent black Philadelphians established because of the failure of the city's board of education to provide adequate schooling for their children. Eventually Robert and his brothers transferred to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society's Clarkson School, although they may also have studied with the private tutors their parents hired to teach their sisters at home.

Growing up Forten developed a wide range ...

Article

Cassandra Jackson

poet, novelist, activist, and orator, was born Frances Ellen Watkins to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland. Her parents' names remain unknown. Orphaned by the age of three, Watkins is believed to have been raised by her uncle, the Reverend William Watkins, a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and a contributor to such abolitionist newspapers as Freedom's Journal and the Liberator Most important for Watkins her uncle was also the founder of the William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth where she studied A well known and highly regarded school the academy offered a curriculum included elocution composition Bible study mathematics and history The school also emphasized social responsibility and political leadership Although Watkins withdrew from formal schooling at the age of thirteen to begin work as a domestic servant her studies at the academy no doubt shaped her political activism oratorical skills ...

Article

Jennifer Larson

politician, poet, journalist, and activist, was born in rural Kalkaska, Illinois, to French Creole parents who had traveled up the Mississippi River to escape oppression in Louisiana. Only scattered details about Menard's early life in Illinois remain. He likely spent part of his youth working on area farms before attending an abolitionist preparatory school in Sparta, Illinois. He also attended Iberia College (later Ohio Central College) in his early twenties, though he did not complete a degree there, presumably because of financial setbacks.

In 1859 Menard spoke to a crowd gathered at the Illinois state fairgrounds to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. The Illinois State Journal s laudatory coverage of the speech points to Menard s budding career in social activism A year later in response to growing racial discrimination in the Illinois legislature Menard published An Address to the Free ...

Article

John Gilmore

Writer and anti‐slavery campaigner. Hannah More first became widely known as a dramatist, with her play Percy proving a great success in 1777. She later turned to writing on social and religious topics, and had a particular interest in the education of women. She was a long‐term resident of Bristol, and the extensive acquaintance that her literary work brought her included John Newton, Beilby Porteus, and William Wilberforce. In 1788 she published Slavery, a Poem, which, while including traditional Eurocentric assumptions about Africans, insisted on their humanity and right to freedom:

Tho' dark and savage, ignorant and blind,

They claim the common privilege of kind;

Let Malice strip them of each other plea,

They still are men, and men shou'd still be free.

The slave trader was denounced as a White Savage and More called on Britain to free her slaves O let the ...

Article

Alfreda S. James

poet and abolitionist, was born Sarah Louisa Forten in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to James Forten, a sailmaker, and Charlotte Vandine, both of whom were active social reformers. Sarah was the fifth of eight surviving children. Her siblings included Margaretta Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, Robert Bridges Forten and James Jr who were all active in the antislavery movement A year before Sarah s birth James Forten wrote a series of public letters objecting to proposed legislation that would have prohibited the migration of blacks into the state of Pennsylvania Forten s poetry mirrored her father s dissatisfaction and disappointment with the evolving American society of the 1830s Both father and daughter used the public forum of print to remind white Americans of broken promises and to define a growing race consciousness among free African Americans Unfortunately for Forten gender proscriptions and family obligations stymied the production ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Englishhistorian, writer, and active denouncer of the African slave trade. Roscoe was born in Liverpool and was repulsed by the slave trade and its ubiquity in his home town, where most of its wealth was derived from the trade. He became politically active in the 1790s, and in October 1806 he was elected member of Parliament for Liverpool. One of his earliest speeches called not only for parliamentary reform and peace with France, but for the abolition of the slave trade. He was spoken of highly by William Wilberforce. Wilberforce referred to Roscoe as ‘a man who by strength of character has risen above the deep‐seated prejudices of his townspeople and eventually won their respect’. Roscoe's first published work, Mount Pleasant, a Descriptive Poem (1777), deprecated the slave trade. In 1787 he wrote and published The Wrongs of Africa The poem promoted him ...

Article

Karen O'Brien

Abolitionist poet. Rushton lived most of his life in Liverpool, but gained first‐hand experience of the slave trade and of Jamaica when he worked as a ship's mate in the 1770s. A slave friend, Quamina, whom he had taught to read, died rescuing him when his boat capsized. During this time he contracted ophthalmia, which left him blind for most of his life. On his return, he bore witness to the brutality of slavery in his West‐Indian Eclogues (1787), a series of four poems written in the voices of fictional slaves and presenting them as dignified and seething with righteous anger. The poems, which attracted wide public notice, including that of Thomas Clarkson and William Roscoe, deal explicitly with the sexual abuse and sadistic punishments inflicted on slaves, and their right to violent resistance. The notes to the Eclogues make a more conservative case for ...

Article

David Dabydeen

BritishPoet Laureate (appointed in 1813) whose radical literary output included poems against the slave trade. Southey, born in the slave port of Bristol, was moved by the egalitarian principles of the French Revolution (1789), and co‐wrote with Samuel Taylor Coleridge a play celebrating revolutionary social change, The Fall of Robespierre (1794). With Coleridge and other friends he planned to set up a ‘Pantisocracy’ in New England—a communal utopian settlement of fraternity and harmony.

His poem ‘To the Genius of Africa’ (1797 is a passionate and revolutionary call to Africans to take up arms against slave traders Avenging Power awake arise awake arise avenge It is a powerful denunciation of European involvement in what Southey deems to be criminal activity It pulls no punches in exposing Afric s wrongs and Europe s guilt Southey writing of black bodies whipped and wounded until ...

Article

Greer C. Bosworth

prohibitionist, voting rights activist, civil rights activist, writer, and poet, was born Naomi Bowman in Michigan City, Indiana, as one of three children of Elijah and Guilly Ann Bowman. The Bowmans were free blacks and natives of Ohio. Naomi was raised in Indiana with her parents and siblings. The segregated public schools in Michigan City would not admit black children, so her parents hired a private teacher. At a very early age, Naomi developed a talent for writing poetry. At the age of twelve, she was admitted to a previously all-white public school. There is some indication that when the white parents in the Michigan City community recognized her talents for writing poetry they agreed to admit her to the public school. Unfortunately, after her mother's death in 1860 Naomi s father decided that further education would not be necessary for his daughters ...

Article

Johnnella E. Butler

poet, abolitionist, and emigrationist, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the son of parents whose names are unknown. Little else is known of his family except that he had a sister, a wife, two sons, and a daughter.

A celebrated poet, Whitfield published two volumes of poetry, Poems in 1846 and America, and Other Poems in 1853, the latter launching his career as an abolitionist and emigrationist. The authors Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon point out Lord Byron's influence on his poetry's “brooding melancholy and latent anger” but see his strong abolitionist protest as more important. His poem “America” voiced the paradox of America as he saw it: “a boasted land of liberty” and “a land of blood and crime.” One of the most forceful writers and speakers for the abolitionist cause, Whitfield was seen by Frederick Douglass as unjustly buried in the precincts ...

Article

David Dabydeen

English Romantic poet whose interest in the issue of slavery resulted in the writing of several poems on the theme of slavery. Of particular note is Wordsworth's sonnet written in 1807 and addressed to the Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L'Ouverture entitled ‘To Toussaint L'Ouverture’. The poem focuses on the plight of L'Ouverture following his arrest and deportation to France in 1802. Control of Haiti had been contested by the French, who had minor rights to the colony, and the British, who were planning the reintroduction of slavery to Saint‐Domingue, as the island was referred to then. L'Ouverture led the revolution against the British, succeeding when they surrendered in 1798. However, when the Peace of Amiens declared the colony to be semi‐independent, Napoleon Bonaparte reinstated slavery, and a second active resistance ensued, led again by L'Ouverture.

The inspiration for Wordsworth s sonnet is a complicated fusion of disillusionment with ...

Article

John Gilmore

Poet and writer. Born Ann Cromartie, Yearsley was a milkwoman from Clifton, a suburb of Bristol, and represents one of the few women of the poorer classes of her day to acquire a reputation for her poetry. Her local reputation as a poet attracted the attention of Hannah More, who secured a very long list of subscribers for the publication of Yearsley's Poems, on Several Occasions, in 1785, though the two subsequently quarrelled. ‘Lactilla, or the Bristol Milkmaid’, as Mrs Yearsley was called, wished to receive the capital from her subscriptions, but Hannah More prevaricated until the trust was handed over to a Bristol merchant and eventually to the poet.

Like More, Yearsley was drawn to the controversy about slavery, and in 1788 she published A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave‐Trade Her vivid description of the sufferings and death of an imaginary slave ...