HENRY HIGHLAND GARNETT

HENRY HIGHLAND GARNETT

1815-1882

Henry Garnet, whose highly influen¬ tial “Address to the Slaves of the United States” united a whole generation of aboli¬ tionists, was himself born a slave in Kent County, Maryland. At 10 he escaped with his family to New Hope, Pennsylvania and was trained as an abolitionist and a theolo¬ gian in New York.

His career began early. He applied to the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire with three other African-American students, and caused such violent protest that the school shut down.His gift for oration was discovered dur¬ ing his address at the American Anti-Slav¬ ery Convention in 1840.

By 1843, he was a master. At the National Convention of Colored Citizens in Buffalo, New York, Garnet’s famous address, later called Gar¬ net’s “Call to Rebellion,” proved he had grown into one of the most influential speakers of his age: “Think how many tears you have poured out upon the soil which you have cultivated with unrequited toil and enriched with your blood; and then go to your lordly enslavers and tell them plainly, that you are determined to be free.

There is not much hope of redemption without the shedding of blood. If you must bleed, let it all come at once—rather die freemen, than live to be slaves.”His words struck cleanly into the hearts of the 70 delegates who had come from all over to address the issue of abolition.

In a time of confusion and indeterminate activi¬ ty, Garnet stated the price one must be will¬ ing to pay for freedom, and in so doing, motivated an entire generation. Though members like Frederick Douglass (see no. 14) opposed his revolutionary tone, Gar¬ net’s words were published with David Walker’s Appeal and distributed.

The elo¬ quence of his commitment urged people to follow their passion towards the final anni¬ hilation of slavery in America.While Garnet believed that slavery was “the highest crime against God and man,” he came to believe that total freedom was possible only on African land.

He and his supporters were further convinced by the demoralizing passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which helped slave owners regain possession of runaways who had escaped north.

By 1881, Garnet had embraced the idea of emigration and was made the minister of Liberia, a position he held for one year before his death in 1882. Though Garnet called for complete revolt in his most famous address, he spoke from the position of a theologian, a man devoted to the ideas of Christianity. Through the network of uni¬ fied churches, people came to hear the words ofmen like Garnet, and to commit their lives to the creation of a wholly free society.