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To Live an Antislavery Life

Personal Politics and the Antebellum Black Middle Class

Erica L. Ball

Publication Year: 2012

In this study of antebellum African American print culture in transnational perspective, Erica L. Ball explores the relationship between antislavery discourse and the emergence of the northern black middle class.

Through innovative readings of slave narratives, sermons, fiction, convention proceedings, and the advice literature printed in forums like Freedom’s Journal, the North Star, and the Anglo-African Magazine, Ball demonstrates that black figures such as Susan Paul, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Delany consistently urged readers to internalize their political principles and to interpret all their personal ambitions, private familial roles, and domestic responsibilities in light of the freedom struggle. Ultimately, they were admonished to embody the abolitionist agenda by living what the fugitive Samuel Ringgold Ward called an “antislavery life.”

Far more than calls for northern free blacks to engage in what scholars call “the politics of respectability,” African American writers characterized true antislavery living as an oppositional stance rife with radical possibilities, a deeply personal politics that required free blacks to transform themselves into model husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, self-made men, and transnational freedom fighters in the mold of revolutionary figures from Haiti to Hungary. In the process, Ball argues, antebellum black writers crafted a set of ideals—simultaneously respectable and subversive—for their elite and aspiring African American readers to embrace in the decades before the Civil War.

Published in association with the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Program in African American History. A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. xiii-xvi

I have had the good fortune to receive assistance from a number of institutions and individuals over the many years that I have worked on this project. Although it is impossible to fully convey...

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pp. 1-9

By the 1830s and 1840s, a small but noticeable number of free African Americans living in the North had received the education and training necessary to take up positions as teachers...

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CHAPTER ONE: African American Advice Literature and Black Middle-Class Self-Fashioning

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pp. 10-36

In the decades aft er the American Revolution and the founding of the new nation, northern states began abolishing the practice of racial slavery. Beginning with the state of Vermont...

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CHAPTER TWO: Slave Narratives and the Black Self-Made Man

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pp. 37-61

In 1855, just weeks aft er emigrating from the United States to Jamaica, abolitionist activist, orator, newspaper editor, and Congregational minister Samuel Ringgold Ward published his life story...

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CHAPTER THREE: Antislavery Discourse and the African American Family

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pp. 62-80

When Harriet Jacobs began writing her memoir, she must have known that her story would be diffi cult to believe. Aft er all, she had spent seven years of her life hiding from her master...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Domestic Literature and the Antislavery Household

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pp. 81-108

Long married to a successful caterer and blessed with three children, Solomon Northup could not wait to leave behind Bayou Boeuf, Louisiana, the scene of his twelve- year captivity in slavery...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Transnationalism, Revolution, and the Anglo-African Magazine on the Eve of the Civil War

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pp. 109-131

When Thomas Hamilton of Brooklyn, New York, launched the Anglo- African Magazine in 1859, he off ered “the fi rst literary magazine produced by and for the black community,” opening a new phase in African...

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pp. 132-136

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, as a small population of free African Americans carved out a space for their communities in the North, they also created a print culture that spoke to the cultural and political concerns of an emerging black middle class...


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pp. 137-170


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pp. 171-176

E-ISBN-13: 9780820344676
E-ISBN-10: 0820344672
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329765
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329762

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900
Series Editor Byline: Richard S. Newman, Patrick Rael, and Manisha Sinha, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 820009870
MUSE Marc Record: Download for To Live an Antislavery Life

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Free African Americans -- History -- 19th century.
  • Free African Americans -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Free African Americans -- Attitudes -- History -- 19th century.
  • Citizenship -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century.
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