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American to the Backbone: The Life of James…
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American to the Backbone: The Life of James W. C. Pennington, the Fugitive…

by Christopher L. Webber

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The incredible story of a forgotten hero of nineteenth century New York City who was a former slave, Yale scholar, minister, and international leader of the Antebellum abolitionist movement. At the age of 19, scared and illiterate, James Pennington escaped from slavery in 1827 and soon became one of the leading voices against slavery prior to the Civil War. Just ten years after his escape, Pennington was ordained to the ministry of the Congregational Church after studying at Yale. Moving to Hartford, he became involved with the Amistad captives and founded the first African American mission society. He traveled to England as a delegate to a world Anti-Slavery Convention and served also as a delegate to an international peace convention. Later he traveled widely in Britain and on the continent to gain support for the American abolition movement. He was so respected by European audiences that the University of Heidelberg awarded him an honorary doctorate, making him the first person of African descent to receive such a degree. As he fought for equal rights in America, Pennington's voice was not limited to the preacher's pulpit. He wrote the first-ever "History of the Colored People" as well as a careful study of the moral basis for civil disobedience, which would be echoed decades later by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.… (more)

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True, this is a biography of Pennington; however, it is also a history of the anti-slavery movement in the USA in the first half of the 19th century. We learn about some of the biggest names in the movement such as William Lloyd Garrison, Lewis Tappan and Frederick Douglas and their views on how to end slavery. They frequently did not agree on how to eliminate slavery from America.

Pennington was an illiterate slave in Maryland who fled north and in the short period of 5 years was writing columns for anti-slavery newspapers and teaching school. Eventually he became a pastor and anti-slavery speaker traveling to England and Europe to raise money and support for the fight to eliminate slavery in the world and specifically the USA. He was the first Black man to receive an honorary degree from a university when the University of Heidelberg bestow one on him.

This is a well documented volume on this volatile period in American history. The emancipation movement was not always supported in the north and in fact some of the most supportive white men were often racist in their own actions and speech.

The title, American to the Backbone, is a quote from Pennington's writings and indicates his view that he and most African Americans had been born in America, were Americans and any movement to send them back to Africa was wrong.

The bibliography is voluminous and would be a good place to start one's own research into the abolitionist movement. ( )
  lamour | Oct 2, 2013 |
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