PBS is running a series on American Experience,”The Abolitionists: 1820-1838”. I have been interested in the anti-slavery movement for many years, in particular the Quaker involvement. But I was unaware of its actual origins as a movement. I found that a young man William Lloyd Garrison felt a conviction that God was calling him to fight for the end to slavery and he began a newspaper dedicated to this purpose alone. Out of this publication the movement began and small communities sprouted up throughout the north in a very short time. Garrison was a very positive man, believing that when the church leaders in the south realized the truth of the wrongness of slavery they would begin to convince their congregations, who would willingly free their slaves. He even produced religious education materials that he sent to Christian congregations in the south with sermon points and lesson plans for teaching children. There were even children’s songs that could be used in teaching. The congregations liked the materials so much they burned them along with effigies of Garrison. As a former religious education coordinator, I would love to have seen the education packets that Garrison sent out.
A woman drawn to the movement, Angelina Grimke, the daughter of a prominent slave-holding family from the south, was touched by Garrison’s message and wrote a long passionate letter to him about her belief in freedom for the slaves. He published her letter and that did not go well with her family. She refused to refute the letter so they disowned her. She joining the movement and met another abolitionist Theodore Weld. Weld’s contribution to the movement was to train speakers to go out and spread the anti-slavery message wherever they were welcome. Angelina became one of these speakers and went around speaking to groups, first to women, but in time to groups of both men and women. She was chided for speaking to men, not keeping her place. Aware of the subordinate position of women and their powerlessness in the households where their husbands held slaves, Angelina began to speak out for women’s rights. Weld sent her a letter bawling her out for getting her movements mixed up. He told her to hold down the defense of women until the slaves were freed. After the words chiding her, he wrote in big triple-sized letters, “I HAVE LOVED YOU FROM THE MOMENT I FIRST MET YOU”. They married and had what was probably the first integrated reception in America. And…this is the best part…they wrote their own vows leaving out the part about wives submitting to their husbands. This was in the early 1800s! Someone just has to make a movie of this!
It was inspiring to learn of these early abolitionists. They were young and in-your-face passionate, willing to suffer for their beliefs and they did. It took this kind of zeal for the abolitionist message to gain a firm foothold but another thirty years before freedom would be achieved.