HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET’S “ADDRESS TO THE SLAVES’” AND ITS COLORED CONVENTIONS ORIGINS
GARNET BEYOND THE 19TH CENTURY
Henry Highland Garnet and the legacy of “Address” transcended his lifetime.
In the September 1964 edition of Ebony Magazine, Clifford Lee wrote a seven-page article about Garnet’s legacy of refusing the white supremacist status quo. The article includes artistic renditions of Garnet. It traces his life beginning from when he was a slave on Virginia plantation with his family, to when he rose as a Black Nationalist (“Negro Nationalist”) leader and champion of radical Black self-assertion and abolition. The article emphasized Garnet’s toughness and fury throughout his lifetime, which stays consistent with the masculinist language described in the original 1843 “Address.”
“Nay-Sayer of the Negro Revolt”
The article particularly described the delivery of the “Address” at the 1843 Buffalo National Convention. Most of the quotes are taken from late printed editions of Garnet’s “Address,” but also included in the article are the accounts from delegates who describe Garnet’s persona and delivery. Williams Wells Brown described Garnet’s eyes as piercing with a strong hold on the convention delegates. Brown said that his fierce gaze seemed “to look through you.” The article further described his voice as deep and vibrant, transcending the room as if he were speaking to slaves directly. After detailing Garnet’s delivery, the article discussed the voting outcomes at the Conventions, only referencing the first round of votes, and the political opposition between Frederick Douglass and Garnet.
Interestingly enough, though the illustrations provide visual speculations about what the 1843 delivery of the “Address” might have looked like, it did not illustrate Garnet’s disability, despite the fact that the article had gone in detail about the event in which Garnet lost his leg. Additionally, the article did not mention Julia Williams Garnet, his wife, who Henry Highland Garnet cited as extremely influential on the production of the “Address.” One could only speculate about these omissions, but the omission of these important facts could be an attempt to emphasize the masculine imaging constructed around Garnet’s legacy.
The September 1964 edition of Ebony Magazine connected contemporary struggles for Black freedom and autonomy to Henry Highland Garnet’s legacy. Connecting these points in time further demonstrated the pliable, enduring, transhistorical nature of white power structures and the necessity of Black solidarity to combat these power structures. The magazine featured three major stories outside of the Garnet article: “Crusade in Mississippi,” an article on the Mississippi Summer Project, “The Mystery of Malcolm X,” an article understanding Malcolm X and his break from the Nation of Islam, and “Champ’s African ‘Love Affair,’” an article on Muhammad Ali’s experiences during his pilgrimage to Africa. All of these articles in some way connected to the legacy of Garnet and the rhetoric and/or descriptions of Garnet in his article.
“Crusade in Mississippi” discussed the details of the Mississippi Summer Project, an initiative during the Civil Rights Movement that aimed to secure Black voting rights within the oppressive, violent state that drastically limited the literacy, mobility, and civil rights of Black residents. Similarly, the article discussed how Garnet closely worked with liberation groups to promote Black self-assertion in opposition to violent white terrorism in slave states. In “Mystery of Malcolm X,” the article discussed Malcolm X’s break from the Nation of Islam, and the differences between him and Martin Luther King. The article described Malcolm X as someone who stood up for what he believed in and refused unjust use of power. All rhetoric used to describe X is similar to the rhetoric used to describe Garnet.
In Champ’s African “Love Affair,” an extensive outline on Muhammad Ali’s trip through Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt is found. Ali stated, “Every black man in America should see Africa, because that’s where home really is.” This article directly related to the concepts of Black Nationalism that is traced back to David Walker and Henry Highland Garnet. Ultimately, Henry Highland Garnet’s legacy and the original recitation of the 1843 “An Address to Slaves of the United States,” transcends beyond the nineteenth century, illustrating a timeless connection between Black freedom movements despite the time period.
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.
Further Acknowledgements: Samantha de Vera, Simone Austin, Gwendolyn Meredith, and Caleb Trotter for 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.