Black Abolitionists Classroom Activity

Black Abolitionists

Let your Motto be resistance!  Resistance!  RESISTANCE!  No oppressed people have ever secured Liberty without resistance. – abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet, 1843


Content Description:

African resistance starts with the inception of the forced involuntary movement of Africans to the Americas.  During the 1830’s the abolitionist movement took on a stronger and louder voice.  Its speakers were more urgent, more militant, and more radical.  This major change came from its African American members.  Using primary sources, this session will begin with the African background, address questions raised by students and examine who the Black abolitionists were, looking closely at their writings, associates, and their effects on the nation.


Guiding Questions:

Why did Africans resist slavery?

How did the African background influence African resistance?

What forms of African resistance emerge?

What forms of African resistance were used to eradicate and undermine the institution of slavery?

What is abolitionism?

Who were the Black abolitionists?


Background Information for Teachers/Pre- session Reading:

“Gone with the Wind”: The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks, ” from Lies My Teacher Told Me, Loewen, James W.,  131-163 and 332-338


Primary Sources:

Excerpt from, David Walker’s Appeal, 1830

Excerpt from, The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia. New York: C. Brown, 1831.

The Slave’s Friend. 1837

Sarah Mapps Douglass, Letter to William Basset, 1837

Excerpt from Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker, at Pensacola, Florida, for Aiding Slaves to Escape from Bondage. Boston: The Anti-Slavery Office, 1846.

Excerpt from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, 1849.


Visual Images:

Slave Trade, Life in Philadelphia, Frederick Douglass, Sarah Mapps Douglass and other images


Anti-Slavery Newspapers:

Colored American, 1840s

The Liberator, 1838 “Slavery”


Additional Newspapers 1830s and 1840s:

The Lowell Courier, 1835 “An Exhibition of Slavery in New Jersey”

United States’ Gazette, 1814 “Runaway Notices”

Norristown Register & Sentinel, 1831, “The Confession of Nat Turner”


Blacks involved in African Resistance:

Henry “Box” Brown

William Wells Brown

Martin Delany

Frederick Douglass

Sarah Mapps Douglass

Amy Cassey

Joseph Cassey

Mary Ann Shadd Carey

Joseph Cinque and the Amistad, 1839

Samuel Cornish

James Forten

Sarah Forten

Henry Highland Garnet

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield

George M. Horton

James McCrummell

William C. Nell

Robert Purvis

Stephen Smith

Charles Lenox Redmond

Sarah Parker Redmond

Maria W. Stewart

William Still

Nat Turner

Sojourner Truth

Harriet Tubman

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

William Whipper

Harriet E. Wilson

James W. Whitfield


White Abolitionists:

James. G. Birney

Maria Weston Chapman

Lydia Maria Child

William Lloyd Garrison

Angelina and Sarah Grimke

Elijah Lovejoy

James and Lucretia Mott

Wendell Phillips

Arthur and Lewis Tappan

Theodore Dwight Weld


Selected Topics:

How did racism and violence during the 1830s and 1840s impact the antislavery movement?

How did abolitionism become more aggressive during from the 1830s through the 1850s?

What roles did black institutions play in the antislavery movement?

Anti-black and Anti-abolitionist riots

Black and Women’s antislavery Societies

Black Convention Movement

Black Community Institutions




Intellectual and

Benevolent Societies


Suggested Activities:

1) Map:

  • Have students identify states where the abolition movement begun.
  • Have students identify northern states and upper and lower southern states.
  • Have students illustrate approximate routes of the Underground Railroad Network.

2) Create a timeline of the abolition movement

3) Have students view slavery from the eyes of enslaved Africans.

4) Have students examine and research evidence of resistance to slavery.

5) Have students examine a narrative of an abolitionist.

6) Have student examine means of escaping slavery.



Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin. Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2010.

Black Abolitionists Papers, Volume 1, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

R.J.M. Blackett. Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Charles L. Blockson. African Americans in Pennsylvania: Above Ground and Underground An Illustrated Guide. Harrisburg, PA: RB Books, 2001

_______________. The Underground Railroad: First-Person Narratives of Escapes to Freedom in the North. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press, , 1987.

Bormann, Ernest G. Forerunners of Black Power: The Rhetoric of Abolition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

John H. Bracey, Jr.  August Meier, and Elliott Rudwick, Blacks in the Abolitionist Movement, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1971.

Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and my freedom, New York, NY: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855.

Vincent Harding. There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1981.

Darlene Clark Hine, William Hine and Stanley Harrold. African-American History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006

Dumond, Dwight Lowell.  Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1961.

Carleton Mabee, Black Freedom: The Nonviolent Abolitionists from 1830 through the Civil War. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

Floyd J. Miller. The Search for Black Nationality: Black Colonization and Emigration, 1787-1863. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Benjamin Quarles. Black Abolitionists. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Marilyn Richardson. Maria W. Stewart: America’s First Black Woman Political Writer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Samuel Sillen. Women Against Slavery. New York, NY: Masses & Mainstream, 1955.

Sterling Stuckey.  Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Julie Winch. A Gentlemen of Color: The Life of James Forten. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002

_________. Philadelphia’s Black Elite: Activism, Accommodation, and Struggle for Autonomy, 1787-1840. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.

 Shirley J. Yee.  Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828-1860. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.