Black and White Abolitionists

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Black and white abolitionists often had different agendas by the 1840s, and certainly in the 1850s. But one of the greatest frustrations that many black abolitionists faced was the racism they sometimes experienced from their fellow white abolitionists. In many cases, within the Garrisonian movement in particular, the role of the black speaker or the black writer or the black abolitionist was, in some ways, prescribed, as the famous case of Frederick Douglass' relationship with the Garrisionians. It was a problem for white abolitionists as well, because, in many ways, what they had discovered with black speakers is the authentic black voice, and they were using it all that they could But for black abolitionists, it became very often simply a case of the demand for recognition, the demand for mutual respect. And it was also especially frustrating to black abolitionists to deal sometimes with the kinds of abstract debates that abolitionists would have, that white abolitionists would have, over doctrine. And, increasingly, in the 1850s, black abolitionists didn't have time to struggle over doctrinaire questions of tactics and strategy. They were by the 1850s about the business of building their own communities, and trying to organize real strategies against slavery in the South Abolitionists played a key role in setting the terms of the debate over slavery and in making it a compelling moral issue. Yet abolitionists had remarkably little influence in the North. Very few Northerners were abolitionists, and many regarded abolitionists as dangerous fanatics. What made their case telling was the South's violent reaction. Extreme Southern responses appeared to confirm abolitionist warnings about a conspiratorial "Slave Power." By the 1850s, however, the escalating sectional conflict had largely taken on a momentum of its own, one that owed less and less to abolitionism. The goal of the abolitionist movement was the immediate emancipation of all slaves and the end of...
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