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Henry Highland Garnett in Abolitionists

Henry Highland Garnett (1815-1882) was one of the most prominent black leaders throughout the antebellum period and a leading figure in the American Anti-Slavery Society. An escaped slave, Garnett attained national notoriety when, at the 1843 National Negro Convention in New York, he called upon slaves to murder their masters. The convention refused to endorse such a radical proposition, and Garnett increasingly turned to religion, leaving his fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass to assume the mantle of black leadership. Still, many of Garnett's former critics, including Douglass, gradually moved toward his own radical position.

Garnett supported the cause of an independent black republic in Liberia, which was established in 1847, but also maintained optimism for the future of blacks at home in America. Nevertheless, fueled in no small part by the failure of Reconstruction, Garnett lost faith in the prospect of a black future on American soil. Appointed minister to Liberia in 1881, he supported colonization, but died two months after his arrival in Africa. Though Garnett began his career with a passion for justice, he ended it consumed by disenchantment over the state of race relations in America. Even before his turn to colonization, Garnett's radical approach to the slavery question reminds us that factions abounded within the antislavery movement. Black activists had to navigate these differences to achieve their goals of freedom and equality.

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