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Henry Highland Garnet's "Address to the Slaves"

Henry Highland GarnetIn Buffalo, New York, Henry Highland Garnet gave his famous "An Address to the Slaves of the United States." He called for the slaves of the South to refuse to work, to approach their masters and demand their freedom, and to resist their oppressors with force if necessary. Because it is such an influential "text," it is easy to forget that Garnet's 1843 address was spoken, not written, and rejected twice by the committee that heard it [1]. Not until five years later in 1848 would the address emerge in print as an introduction to the second edition of David Walker's Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.  


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Henry Highland Garnett, abolitionist and editor." New York Public Library Digital Collections


Because we do not have access to the original address, reading Garnet's words is like seeing a black hole: we know it happened, but we can observe it only through the discourse that responded to its gravity. Talking about the address, then, is really talking about a constellation of at least three distinct textual events:

  • The official minutes of the 1843 National Colored Convention
  • Newspaper accounts describing Garnet's performance, and
  • 1848 and 1865 printed editions of his address

Exhibit Overview

This exhibit addresses an issue with the modern-day memory of Henry Highland Garnet’s “An Address to the Slaves of the United States.” It reminds readers not only that Garnet’s original address was an oration—and originally voted down—but that there are several subsequent editions of the printed text—each of which can be examined for its individual qualities. Garnet’s “Address” appears static, but it was a living document in many ways. By refocusing attention on the “Address” to more broadly recognize its history, we are able to show how it reflects issues connected to Black print culture in the antebellum period as well as tensions that exist between print and oral performance. We will trace Garnet’s “Address” through its inception at the 1843 Convention to its subsequent publication journey. In doing so, we extend our attention beyond the minutes of the forums and include information from newspapers and other textual sources to color in the gaps that surround the 1843 oration of Garnet’s “An Address to the Slaves of the United States.”

This exhibit reimagines the forthcoming article, "Flights of Fancy": Rereading Henry Highland Garnet's "Address to the Slaves" through reception History and Print Culture," by Professor Derrick R. Spires to be included in the essay volume, Colored Conventions in the Nineteenth Century and the Digital Age. 

Credits and Citations

Curator: Harrison Graves and Jake Alspaugh, graduate students University of Delaware Department of English, Derrick Spires, Assistant Professor of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Edited by P. Gabrielle Foreman and Sarah Patterson.

Acknowledgements: Samantha de Vera, Simone Austin, Gwendolyn Meredith, and Caleb Trotter for visualizations, improvements, and technical assistance. 

The Colored Conventions Project proudly partners with national and local teaching partners and student contributors to bring the buried history of nineteenth-century Black political organizing to digital life.

Special thanks to Gale®, part of Cengage Learning, and Accessible Archives, for granting permission to host digital images of newspapers in its databases.


[1] National Convention of Colored Citizens (1843 : Buffalo, NY), “Minutes of the National Convention of Colored Citizens; Held at Buffalo; on the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th of August, 1843; for the purpose of considering their moral and political condition as American citizens.,”, accessed May 12, 2016,