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Black seamen smuggled the appeal into chained Southern hands; community readers sounded the appeal to violently throw off the violent yoke.Walker’s ultimatum for slaveholders: Give us freedom and rights, or you will “curse the day that you ever were born!”“Crania Americana,” by Samuel Morton (1839)This book revived the theory of polygenesis that dominated intellectual racial discourse until the Civil War.
Finley wrote the manifesto for colonization, a cause supported by several American leaders until Lincoln’s failed schemes doomed the movement during the Civil War.“An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” by David Walker (1829)This Boston abolitionist viciously assailed colonization and “Mr.
Jefferson’s arguments” in the first book-length attack on the “inhuman system of slavery” by an African-American.
No other piece of antislavery literature so devastated Morton’s defense of polygenesis, or John C.
Calhoun’s recently popularized theory that slavery was a “positive good.”“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)Inflamed by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Stowe offered a fugitive slave story that made millions sympathize with slaves.
The New South will be as good for black folk as the old, Haygood declared, as new white Southerners would continue to civilize inferior black folk in their nicely segregated free-labor society.“Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro,” by Frederick Hoffman (1896)Better covered than the Plessy v.
Ferguson decision that year, “Race Traits” catapulted this statistician into scientific celebrity.
Assimilationists and abolitionists exhibited Wheatley and her poetry as proof that an “uncultivated barbarian from Africa” could be civilized, that enslaved Africans “may be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train” of European civilization and human freedom.
Enslavers disagreed, and lashed out at Wheatley’s “Poems.”“Notes on the State of Virginia,” by Thomas Jefferson (1785)The author of American freedom in 1776 wrote of American slavery as a necessary evil in this book, widely regarded as the most important political portrait of the nascent United States.
Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin are familiar figures.
Far less so is Samuel Morton (champion of the obsolete theory of polygenesis) or Thomas Dixon (author of novels romanticizing Klan violence).