Monday, February 6, 2012

I am an Abolitionist

February 7, 2012 marks the 161st anniversary of the publication of the lyrics to William Lloyd Garrison’s “I am an Abolitionist” in his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. Although there had been anti-slave trade and anti-slavery meetings in Philadelphia as early as 1794, the abolitionist movement did not gain momentum until the 1830s.

William Lloyd Garrison, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1805, was one of the leaders of the movement. He was originally involved in the temperance movement, and after meeting abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, Garrison shifted his focus to the immediate abolition of slavery. He promoted emancipation through “moral suasion,” which was nonviolent and nonpolitical resistance. The Liberator was published weekly from January 1831 until after the 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865. While considered an important abolitionist publication, the weekly newspaper ran largely at a financial deficit.

Garrison, well-known for his oratory skills, helped to found the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832 at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. He was also a major force behind the American Anti-Slavery Society, formed in 1833 in Philadelphia, a hub of the anti-slavery Quaker religion.

The Museum of African American History held a rededication ceremony in December 2011 to celebrate the recently finished historic restoration and the 205th anniversary of the African Meeting House, which opened in 1806. The meeting house, the “oldest extant African American church building in the nation constructed primarily by free black artisans,” played host to several significant events during the abolitionist movement.

The State Library holdings relating to Garrison include original issues of The Liberator from August 1859 through December 1865, and microfilm of issues from February 1861 through the last issue on December 29, 1865. The State Library also holds pamphlets of Garrison and other abolitionists’ speeches, a memorial to William Lloyd Garrison printed by the city council in 1886, reprints of records of the New England Anti-Slavery Society as well as many books on abolitionism and the people who led the abolitionist movement.

Jennifer Hornsby, Special Collections intern