African-Americans Spurred Ideological Battle Against Slavery, Says UMass Amherst Professor

AMHERST, Mass. – 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 a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor.

Manisha Sinha, associate professor of Afro-American studies and history, is currently on a year-long leave to research and write a book titled “Redefining Democracy: African Americansand the Movement to Abolish Slavery, 1775-1865.” Her work isfunded by a $40,000 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and additional support from the dean of the Collegeof Humanities and Fine Arts.

Based on her preliminary research, Sinha says African-American thinkers have not been given their due for developing ideological argumentsagainst 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 abattle 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.

For more information, Manisha Sinha can be reached at 508/347-1986 or by e-mail at masinha@afroam.umass.edu.