Henry Highland Garnet – African-American abolitionist, Minister, Activist (December 23, 1815 – February 13, 1882)

Henry Highland Garnet – African-American abolitionist, Minister, Activist (December 23, 1815 – February 13, 1882)

Overview

 

 

By OV Staff

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Henry Highland Garnet — born a slave, well educated, known for his skills as an orator, a leading abolitionist, a clergyman — stood before the delegates of the 1843 National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York. In a speech given just the previous year, he had stated his belief that responsibility for the abolition of slavery lay chiefly with the whites. Freedom, he thought, would come about politically. Sometime since then, however, Garnet had a radical change of mind. In what has come to be known as his “Call to Rebellion,” Garnet gave an impassioned speech in which he encouraged slaves to revolt against their masters.

Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists aligned with William Lloyd Garrison’s doctrine of moral suasion — a non-resistant approach to abolish slavery — spoke after Garnet and denounced the speech. Should Garnet’s “call” be officially endorsed by the convention? A committee worked to tone down the message, but the convention’s delegates still found the language too harsh. Garnet’s address was rejected, but by only one vote.

By 1849 Garnet began to favor emigration. Liberia, a country in Africa inhabited by freed blacks from the New World, had declared its independence two years earlier. Garnet saw no reason not to advocate the emigration to other lands as well as the fight against slavery at home. Still a prominent abolitionist, he travelled to England and Scotland, where he lectured. Although he considered remaining in England, he left for Jamaica in 1852 to work as a missionary. Several years later he returned to the United States.

Garnet’s role as an abolitionist leader would diminish as the years progressed, although he would continue to remain active in the cause. Too radical for the Garrisonians, Garnet lost his influence in the movement and turned even more toward religion. During the Civil War and afterwards he worked to improve the lives of former slaves. In 1881, he was appointed by the government to a [post] in Liberia. He died two months after his arrival there.

 

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