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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

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The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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Voices from Slavery

Long poem published by an anonymous author in 1848 in the Leeds Anti-Slavery Tract series. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.


The Leeds Anti-Slavery Association published prolifically between 1837-1856.  This publication was the 66th in its long-running Tract Series, one that had considerable distribution in the United States via its friends in the American Anti-Slavery Society.  The publishers, W. and F.G. Cash, were British reform publishers that frequently issued works by American progressive writers, including Elihu Burrit, Horace Mann, Sarah Moore Grimk√©, and others.


According to its title, this long poem by an anonymous author came as a response to reading British Quaker antislavery activist and travel writer Joseph Sturge (1793-1859).   The poem consists of 21 five-line stanzas arranged in 3-stanza topical groups.   In an impassioned ‘moral cause’ style the poem calls for readers to respond to descriptions of the sights and sounds of slavery.  It begins with scenes of enslavement and the Middle Passage [stanzas 1-9], sale and field work in the Caribbean [10-16], and concludes with an evangelical Christian appeal for readers to avoid the produce of slave labor and embrace universal fraternity [17-21]. 


The poem also exemplifies a frequent problem in antislavery poetry written by moral reformers in that here it is white reformers who monopolize change; the poem does not recognize black slaves as resistant subjects but rather they are objects of pity and ‘uplift.’  The poet, who adopts a well-used style of appeal, makes anachronistic reference to slavery in the West Indies [stanza group 3], which had ended for over a decade in Great Britain’s Caribbean colonies.  At this date (1848), the United States had become the major focus of British antislavery writing and publishing.  This suggests the continuing influence of stylistic habit fostered by generations of British antislavery poetry.


- Joe Lockard