Wednesday, February 15, 2012

John Brown and Anti-Slavery

John Brown and Anti-Slavery: Although the above video is largely unrelated to the antebellum history of John Brown the abolitionist, its anti-war message resonates powerfully. Bob Dylan's lyrical talents are unique, as he articulates poignant views on socio-political events in the form of folk poetry. Similarly, the story of radical abolitionist John Brown has undergone a kind of folk transformation. Beginning with his three-day raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, (West) Virginia in October 1859, Brown epitomized the growing intensity of the American anti-slavery movement. The raid's main purpose was to acquire weapons (rifles and pikes) for African-American slaves in the surrounding communities. In fact, Brown believed the raid would be a quick stop followed by a strong push southward along the Appalachian Mountains. He also believed that hundreds of slaves would join. He was wrong. Before Harper's Ferry, however, Brown's interest in abolition had developed over many years. Having been inspired by notions of religious equality and anti-slavery, which emerged in the Second Great Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s, he wanted to be a Congregationalist minister and preach about abolition. But the 1837 murder of abolitionist Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy pushed Brown to radicalize his anti-slavery views. And by 1854, Brown was ready to clash with pro-slavery forces in Bleeding Kansas, which served as a dress rehearsal for Harper's Ferry.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley

On the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley: With the publication of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Phillis Wheatley became one of the first published African Americans. Prominent political figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were even aware of her poetry in the succeeding decades. But what made Wheatley's poetry particularly intriguing was the passion she exhibited for memorializing the dead. Perhaps this passion grew from her conversion to Christianity as a young slave learning to read from the Bible. In effect, Wheatley's "sincere" Protestant beliefs helped legitimize her poetry in the eyes of a potentially skeptical white audience. One example of Wheatley's passion for memorializing the dead included the poem On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, 1770. Since Whitefield was one of the primary preachers in the First Great Awakening, a time of heightened religious fervor during the 1730s and 1740s, Wheatley praised him as a "prophet." Whitefield's central message encouraged a self-driven religious experience, without regard one's position in society, and Wheatley embraced it as such. She ultimately understood his sermons to be theologically liberating (even though Whitefield advocated slavery), which helped assuage the spiritual needs of Christianized African-American slaves (like herself).