The PBS serises, The Abolitionists, is about 5 American anti-slavery activists: Angelina Grimke, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglas, John Brown, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The series includes two of my Top 10 Greatest Americans
Who is my greatest American of all time? William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison was born to a poor family in 1805. As a young man he met Benjamin Lundy who published a newspaper called, the “Genius of Universal Emancipation” and was almost single-handedly speaking out against slavery. Garrison began to work with Lundy and caught a heart-felt vision for liberty and justice for all Americans. He began to work passionately and tirelessly for freedom for the slaves which was a very unpopular cause at the time, even in the North. He insisted on immediate emancipation.
Garrison and a few others founded the Anti-Slavery Society which gradually grew to have a wide influence. In 1831 he began to publish the “Liberator”, a weekly anti-slavery newspaper which at great financial sacrifice, he published until all the slaves were freed in 1865.
This caused Garrison to be hated across American. He was almost killed by a pro-slavery mob in his home town of Boston. Almost every day he received letters containing threats of violence against him. The state of Georgia even put a $5000 price on his head.
Garrison, through his non-religious Christian faith, held to his view of non-violent resistance. He believed in using persuasion (which he called “moral suasion”) rather than violence. He saw slavery for the terrible crime that it was and boldly spoke out against it no matter what it cost him personally. With fiery words, a prophets passion, and a hero’s courage he forced the country to face it’s most crucial moral issue — the act of forcibly holding three million men, women, and children in life-long servitude, bondage, and degradation while hypocritically proclaiming human freedom.
The greatest American has been mostly brushed aside by historians or pictured as a crazy radical. His greatness for the most part has been missed by American historians. But Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, was strongly influenced by Garrison’s non-violent direct action and wrote about it in his book, “The Kingdom of God”.
An Indian man name Gandhi read Tolstoy’s work and adopted Garrison’s non-violent direct action using it to free the nation of India from British control. A Southern American pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr., went to India to visit Mahatma Gandhi and adopted non-violent direct action as the cornerstone for the American Civil Rights Movement.
William Lloyd Garrison is my hero. Oh that we had more people like him today. A wonderful biography of Garrison is: “All on Fire” by Henry Mayer.