THEY WHO WOULD BE FREE: Blacks' Search for Freedom, 1831-1861 by William & Jane Pease

THEY WHO WOULD BE FREE: Blacks' Search for Freedom, 1831-1861

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This study of black leaders and movements in the antebellum North draws implicit, appropriate parallels to the questions dominating the 20th-century civil rights movement. Blacks had to combat notions of their innate inferiority and criminality; they fussed about nomenclature for Americans of African descent, and by the 1850's developed black-is-beautiful spokesmen; they argued about integration versus separatism and bemoaned the ""apathy"" of fellow Negroes. Priorities and strategies for ending slavery and achieving economic self-improvement ended in frustration, and the ""rhetoric of revolt"" peaked with the Dred Scott decision. The authors stick to purely racial categories in asking how the powerless were to gain power in the face of even white abolitionists' reluctance to fight for full equality for blacks. Yet before the advent of a non-discriminatory working-class movement like the Knights of Labor, this was an insuperable dilemma, as the authors suggest. Consequently, debates over a third party versus lesser-evil political support ran aground for lack of the franchise in many states, as well as the immediate need to assist fugitive slaves, while the immoral and impractical idea of emigration for free blacks was rejected by most. The book fails to give, if you will, a colorful sense of men like Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany; it remains an optional survey, best read in tandem with documentary studies such as Sterling Stuckey's The Ideological Origins of Black Nationalism (1972), which fills in such gaps as David Walker's Appeal and the Albany Convention of 1840.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1974
Publisher: Atheneum