Here in Virginia, there are some pretty strong views on history. It isn’t merely in the past, it is occurring in the present as well. This can easily perpetuate the stereotype that Southerners are still fighting the Civil War, or as it is known to some of my relatives, the War of Northern Aggression. However, this view of history in the present tense can be put to good use to dismantle assumptions, rethink the past, and keep cultural institutions relevant.
The most recent episode of The Abolitionists on PBS focused heavily on Frederick Douglass. Reading his 1845 memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in school years ago was my first encounter with the realities of slavery, as I imagine it may be for many people. Somehow, seeing the scene in which William Lloyd Garrison, a prominent abolitionist, and Frederick Douglass first meet brought to mind again how wonderful it is to see these events and documents geographically located on the Abolitionist Map of America. Zoom in on Nantucket, Massachusetts, and you can view the video clip from the series as well as contemporary photographs and documents. Somehow, plotting things on a map makes them more concrete, more believable, not just backstory.
As we continue this project, we are still uncovering relevant abolitionist materials at the Library … read more »
In some cases, failing extravagantly can work in favor of your cause. Go big or go home, as it were. John Brown was an American abolitionist who supported the use of violence to end slavery. A descendant of 17th century Puritans, Brown’s strong Calvinist beliefs would provide the moral inspiration for his battle against slavery. As we saw on The Abolitionists on PBS last Tuesday, Brown made a pledge in 1837 that would steer his actions in the coming decades: “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”
Unlike most white, well-educated, religiously-motivated abolitionists, Brown did not believe in solely non-violent means to end slavery. After the Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850, Brown founded a militant anti-slavery brigade with the Biblically-inspired name “League of Gileadites.” Their mission was to prevent the recapture of escaped slaves by any means necessary. Rising tensions in Kansas compelled Brown to go to the aid of the anti-slavery settlers there, including five of his adult sons. Pro-slavery forces known as “Border Ruffians” interfered with voting, imprisoned abolitionists, harassed free settlers, and eventually seized the town of Lawrence. On 24 May 1856, Brown led a small group of armed men against their pro-slavery neighbors at Pottawatomie Creek, killing five. This catalyzed a civil war … read more »
How did views on slavery evolve in the decades leading up to the Civil War? What different concerns did Quakers, soldiers, and revolutionaries express about the freedom of enslaved people? Most importantly, what evidence can we find in the Library of Virginia’s collections about the anti-slavery movement in the early and mid-1800s?
This unique challenge arose through the LVA’s early involvement in HistoryPin, an interactive website to which we upload geotagged photographs and other archival materials. Each image is accompanied by descriptive metadata, but users can also add their own “stories,” allowing for multiple and personal interpretations of history. Audio and video clips can also be pinned. Click here to see the Library’s HistoryPin collections.
PBS’s trademark documentary series, American Experience, has partnered with HistoryPin to use this digital platform to tell the story of abolitionists. The Library of Virginia was selected to contribute to this exploration of the anti-slavery movement in America—the Abolitionist Map of America. Dozens of museums, libraries, and archives have contributed to populating the map. PBS will also upload several video clips from their upcoming documentary series The Abolitionists, which will air on Tuesdays, January 8-22, 2013. A mobile app and walking tours of Boston, Charleston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia allow users to explore the Abolitionist Map in multiple ways.
The abolitionist materials assembled by the … read more »