Black History Month in Focus: Abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet

This is part of The Shadow League’s yearly Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.

Abolitionist Highland Garnet escaped with his family from slavery in Maryland when he was a child, moving to New York City. His fathers name was George Trusty. His family escaped under the guise of attending a funeral, afterwards they jumped into a covered wagon to Wilmington, Delaware. The family totaled 11 members, a testament to their stock. 

Educated at the African Free School and the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth, he would grow up to become an abolitionist considered militant by both opponents and contemporaries.

A prominent member of the movement for the liberation of African people in America, Garnet would blossom as a world class orator and public speaker, urging African Americans to rise up and take matters into their own hands.

Henry Highland Garnet – 1843 Speech to U.S. Slaves – Hear and Read the Call to Rebellion

Listen to and read Henry Highland Garnet’s 1843 speech at the National Negro Convention in Buffalo, NY. In this speech, Rev. Garnet, an abolitionist and former slave, urges American slaves to revolt to win their freedom. Narrator: Timelessreader1 Photographer: Timelessreader1 Text: The text of this speech, delivered in 1843, is in the Public Domain.

In 1834, Garnet joined William H. Day and David Ruggles to establish the all-male Garrison Literary and Benevolent Association. It garnered mass support among whites, but the club ultimately had to move due to racist feelings. One year later, in 1835, he started studies at the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire. Due to his abolitionist activities, Garnet was driven away from the Noyes Academy by an angry mob. The mob also forced the academy to close

He was a supporter of the emigration of free blacks in Mexico, Liberia and the West Indies. In that aspect, he is a forerunner to Marcus Garvey. In his day, he and Frederick Douglass were at opposing ends of the dialectic for black liberation in America.

He went on to attend Oneida Theological Institute in Whitesboro, New York. He injured his knee in 1839, a year before graduation. In two years it deteriorated, requiring a lower leg amputation.

In 1841 he married abolitionist Julia Williams. The couple moved to Jamaica in 1852, serving as missionaries and educators. They moved to Washington, DC following the Civil War.  Garnet based his philosophy of, and inspiration for, abolition in Christianity.

 As one could probably discern from contemporary times, womens participation in the abolitionist movement was vehemently opposed by leadership, and Henry Highland Garnet was prominent amid that leadership. They split from the American Anti-Slavery Society and founded the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1849. The African Civilization Society was founded to support his dream of expatriation for American blacks. Henry wanted to establish a colony in present day Nigeria, and even supported a country for blacks carved from North American land. 

One of History’s Foremost Anti-Slavery Organizers Is Often Left Out of the Black History Month Stor

One of History’s Foremost Anti-Slavery Organizers Is Often Left Out of the Black History Month Story | News News (Photo by: Photo 12/ UIG via Getty Images) Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882). African American abolitionist. Today, the Reverend Dr. Henry Highland Garnet is the most famous African American you never learned about during Black History Month.

 That dream died with the outbreak of the Civil War, for which Garnet was instrumental in recruiting black soldiers to the Union cause. They were “committed to political abolitionism and to male leadership at the top levels.”

 Garnet would be appointed president of Avery College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1868 and later returned to New York City as a pastor at Shiloh Presbyterian Church, now known as St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem.

His dying wish was to go Liberia to live if even for a only a short time. He was appointed as the U.S. Minister to Liberia in late 1881, and died in Africa two months later on February 13. Henry Highland Garnet was given a state funeral by the Liberian government and buried at Palm Grove Cemetery in the capital, Monrovia.

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