African-Americans spurred ideological battle against slavery, says Sinha

By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons

While the horrific stories told by ex-slaves are often credited with inspiring white anti-slavery crusaders, history has overlooked the African-American thinkers who shaped the ideology of the abolitionist movement, says Manisha Sinha, associate professor of Afro-American Studies and History.

Sinha is currently on a year-long leave to research and write a book entitled “Redefining Democracy: African Americans and the Movement to Abolish Slavery, 1775-1865.” Her work is funded by a $40,000 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and additional support from the dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Based on her preliminary research, Sinha says African-American thinkers have not been given their due for developing ideological arguments against slavery. “We’ve pretty much lost sight of African-Americans being in the vanguard of the abolitionist movement,” she says. “My research has revealed a range of newspaper articles, letters and pamphlets that show that African-Americans developed complicated arguments against slavery.”

Drawing upon the archives of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester and libraries in Boston, Sinha says her research has even found documentation of direct debates between African-American intellectuals and Southern defenders of slavery.

Her planned book will serve as a counterpoint to Sinha’s earlier work, “The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina” (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), which argued that secession was not a battle for white liberty, but was driven by a conservative, antidemocratic movement committed to protecting and perpetuating slavery.

Just as her first book shed new light on the politics of slavery, Sinha says she hopes her current research will bring the voices and views of African-Americans back into the mainstream of American history.