The Voices of Black Abolitionists

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass - F8399N.3 D737a 1845
Narrative of Sojourner Truth – E T874n

Resistance to the institution of slavery took many forms but the anti-slavery movement gained new momentum in the 19th century with the arrival of widely available print media. Along with newspapers, pamphlets, memoirs, and even novels, a new genre of “slave narratives” appeared in which formerly enslaved Black authors told their own stories to expose readers to the horrors of American slavery.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a Slave remains one of the most influential works in American literature. First editions like this one appeared in 1845 emphasizing Douglass’s indictment of slavery and belief in literacy as a liberating force. Inspired by Douglass, illiterate anti-slavery crusader Sojourner Truth dictated her own memoir five years later, expanding on the genre by describing her anti-slavery work as a traveling speaker and freedom fighter. By 1861, both abolitionists were so prominent that they were among some of the first African Americans to officially meet the president in the White House.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth gift of Wright Howes, 1925


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