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The Abolitionists or absolute bull: The myth of the Great White Hope

January 8, 2013

Part 1 of ‘The Abolitionists’ airs Tuesday, Jan. 8, 9 p.m., on KQED

by Truth Minista Paul Scott

“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp.” – “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy

The year is 2020, and Goebbels Entertainment Co. has just released its Academy Award nominated documentary, “Rap Unchained,” about how Hip Hop was successful in emancipating millions of Black children from mental slavery during the late ‘80s. While it briefly mentions the contributions of a few Black rappers of the time, the majority of the film is dedicated to one great man who risked his life by speaking out on behalf of millions of oppressed African Americans. This great hero is none other than the rap abolitionist himself, Vanilla Ice.

'The Abolitionists' by PBSThis week, PBS will air “The Abolitionists,” a movie about people who during the 19th century spoke out against the evils of chattel slavery. While the flick does feature Frederick Douglass, instead of rounding out the cast with Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey, it focuses on the lives of good white folks like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Angelina Grimke and John Brown. Thus, it reinforces the idea that my ancestors were a bunch of punks during slavery, whinin’ in the cotton fields, waiting on the day when some white saviors would free them from bondage.

Like many other topics regarding history, the Abolitionist Movement has been subject to historical revisionism and an attempt by white America to pick our heroes.

Although the film’s trailer proudly proclaims that “if it had not been for the abolitionists, the United States would have thoroughly been a slave nation,” historian Herbert Aptheker wrote in his book , “American Negro Slave Revolts,” that there were more than 200 slave rebellions in this country.

Like many other topics regarding history, the Abolitionist Movement has been subject to historical revisionism and an attempt by white America to pick our heroes.

What is also glossed over by historians is the fact that while many of the white abolitionists did not agree with slavery as an institution, they themselves were still white supremacists who believed that Black people were innately inferior to Whites. Just because an animal rights activist might protest against cruelty to Fido, the pit bull, doesn’t mean that he wants to take him out for dinner and a movie.

Of course, I’m not the first to point this out. In 1837, Rev. Theodore Wright told the New York Slave Anti-Slavery Society that their doctrine must include “recognizing all men as brothers.”

Frederick Douglass young
Frederick Douglass as a young man
Also, according to Lerone Bennett Jr. in his work, “Before the Mayflower,” although Frederick Douglass used to hang out with William Lloyd Garrison, he eventually broke ranks, as white abolitionists like Garrison wanted Black abolitionists to merely serve as lawn jockeys. Douglass, however, believed that Black people should have been at the head of the Abolitionist Movement. Bennett quotes Douglass as saying, “The man who suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress.”

Although Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” is applauded for the role it played in raising awareness about slavery, in his book , “Race: The History of an Idea in America,” Dr. Thomas Gossett claimed that the novel still “made it quite clear that, in spite of the Negro’s humility and aptitude for religion, he is innately inferior.”

It must be also noted that the idea that groups whose religious convictions should have made them longtime allies in the fight against slavery has also been blown way out of proportion. In her book , “Criminalizing of a Race,” Dr. Charshee McIntyre revealed that “as representatives of the emerging capitalist order, reformers could extend charity to the lowliest segment of laborers, but not even the Quakers could view Blacks as potential autonomous beings.”

Douglass, however, believed that Black people should have been at the head of the Abolitionist Movement.

Although much has been written about the white Jewish connection to Black suffering, Harold Cruse wrote in, “Plural but Equal,” that it was not until 1915, after the lynching of Leo Frank by a white Atlanta mob, that Jews began to identify with the suffering of African Americans. Cruse writes that the idea that the Jewish community cared much about Black folks prior to that time is “an inaccurate generalization because it was never explained how Jews as a group were involved in contrast to certain individual Jews.”

The main issue here is that the further that we get away from a time period, the more distorted the historical accuracy becomes. If we are not careful, even modern phenomena such as Hip Hop will eventually become distorted.

GÇÿThe AbolitionistsGÇÖ John Brown urges Frederick Douglass, Shields Green to join assault on HarperGÇÖs Ferry
In a scene from “The Abolitionists,” John Brown, right, urges Frederick Douglass and Shields Green to join his assault on Harper’s Ferry.
As important as Hip Hop has been as a platform that allowed young African Americans to advocate for the rights of poor and oppressed community, if this legacy is not properly guarded, the clear facts will too become muddied by historical inaccuracies and false assumptions.

If we are not careful, our grandchildren will believe that just because Vanilla Ice was popular during the same time period as conscious artists such as Brand Nubian, then he was something other than a cheap, whitewashed version of MC Hammer. Or that even though a white rap group was called “Young Black Teenagers,” they may believe that they were a socially conscious group, rather than a gimmick to prove that white kids could rap.

As we move forward, it must be noted that many of the so-called depictions of “Black History” fictitious or otherwise, have been told from the viewpoint of non-Black people, from “Django” to “The Abolitionists.” Thus we find ourselves in the same dilemma as Frederick Douglass, almost a century and a half later.

The main issue here is that the further that we get away from a time period, the more distorted the historical accuracy becomes. If we are not careful, even modern phenomena such as Hip Hop will eventually become distorted.

The solution is that African Americans must become experts in the field of their own history, as no other racial group would dare trust the interpretation of their culture to others.

This is why we have started the Black by Nature, Conscious by Choice Campaign. During the late ‘80s, the rap group Public Enemy had as its mission to raise up 5,000 Black leaders. So, our task in 2013 is to raise up 5,000 Black scholars who will be experts in Black history, so they can defend our culture against distortions and teach the truth to our future generations.

As Nas said once, “I can.” “If truth is told, the youth can grow. Then learn to survive until they gain control.”

Truth Minista Paul Scott’s website is No Warning Shots For more information on Black by Nature, Conscious by Choice, contact Follow on Twitter @truthminista.


3 thoughts on “The Abolitionists or absolute bull: The myth of the Great White Hope

  1. Anita Wills

    I am pleased to see critical comments about the Abolitionist. I am the author of three books documenting People of Color whose achievements were ignored. Several of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. When I located the rosters of these men of Color in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and printed them in my first book, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color, the silence was deafening. My third book is titled, Black Minqua The Life and Times of Henry Green, and details my ancestors participation in the Christiana Resistance. It is sad that most African Americans do not get credit or even know about this event. When I held a book signing in Lancaster County Pennsylvania, most of those who purchased my book, were White.

    My Ancestor Henry Green and several other blacks from Lancaster County Pennsylvania were part of an event known as the Christiana Resistance. The event took place on 9/11/1851 (Note the Date), and was called a Precursor to the Civil War, by Frederick Douglass. A group of free blacks formed an Organization for the express purpose of ensuring that escaped slaves were not captured. Led by William Parker, an escaped slave himself, they Patrolled the area from Lancaster to Philadelphia and confronted the white patrols. On several occasions they freed slaves in the possession of the white militia. The men knew the night before that Edward Gorsuch was in the area looking for his slaves who were at the Parker House in Christiana. Gorsuch was accompanied by a Federal Marshall and deputies thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act. It was a confrontation that did not end well for Gorsuch who refused to leave Parkers door without his Property. Parker told the Slave Owner that no man could own another man, and his "Property' was not there. As Gorsuch attempted to gain entrance to the Parker House a shot rang out and the slave owner fell to the ground dead.

    When the Marshall and Posse looked around they were surrounded by a sea of angry black faces. The men were summoned by a French Horn blown out the attic window by Parkers wife Eliza. The angry men attacked the Militia, all of whom led to the hills with the Marshall in the lead. It is interesting to note that the Marshall and Militia were armed and the blacks only had farm tools and other objects they picked up along the way. Later that day Parker and his family went into hiding and that night Parker set out on the Underground Railroad headed for Canada. Thirty-Eight Blacks were arrested the next day and only four whites. The blacks were held in pens until the trial while the whites were let out on bail. It was Thaddeus Stephens defense that got the men acquitted of Treason. It was the trial of the century, but don't expect to read about it in the history books. Many of the men, including my Great-Great Grandfather, Henry Green served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. For those like Henry, who remained in the area their heroism, was hidden and is only told as a Local History Event. They have streets named after them, but Edward Gorsuch name is listed with the men who fought against him. One of the white men, is always mentioned as the leader of the event that took place that day. There are several book about that day, including my own, Black Minqua The Life and times of Henry Green, Pieces of the Quilt the Mosaic of An African American Family, both available at;…. Two other books, Bloody Dawn and But We have No Country, are detailed accounting's of the Christiana Resistance.

  2. Selina

    A documentry that was done on Mr. Douglass should include Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman and other
    ACTUAL Black Abolitionist

  3. BEstrada

    Education is most certainly the key. However, as a white woman who thoroughly defends and upholds equality of all races/genders/religions/sexualities, I also am concerned about the perpetual segregation within these same groups done so in the name of specific racial power, especially in the lower class. Growing up in inner city, poor neighborhoods, I often felt and still feel, at times, a sense of racial insecurity. For a short period, I actually came to openly verbalize my dislike for my own race. Obviously, these feelings stemmed from actual injustices I had witnessed by white people but, nonetheless, racial unity needs to be the ultimate encouragement. I came to accept and enjoy that my friends said, 'you're not white for real, you a nigga like us.' Eventually, during college, I realized that I need to acknowledge my own race and be proud that I can recognize racial suppression and do something about it. Believe it or not, I wished, often, that I wasn't white because I knew I would be more accepted by my peers in general.

    At a time when so many children are of mixed races, we need to put a full force concentration on building the child as a whole. Not as a black girl or a white boy or an asian girl. We have to encourage unity WHILE we educate ourselves, and not solely on our own race but on all races. There is a problem with identity issues in mixed youth and with minorities among upper class and white children in the lower class. I thoroughly agree with your article but I would love to see more concentration on acceptance and unity for the generations to come. It has been encouraging to me, after having educated myself on the abolitionist movement, to find that there were some whites who fought slavery and the oppression of fellow man. I hope that you are not claiming such a thing did not exist. It is also necessary to remember that these people were taught, as an absolute from educational authorities, that African Americans were an inferior race. In no way am I excusing this but imagine the will and forethought that was needed in order to fight what was considered to be absolute truth. There are things you and I have belief in now that will be deemed false over time.

    There are numerous forms of modern day slavery in effect right now; women, children and men who are savagely beaten, murdered, and oppressed daily. And while I'm not sure of your particular involvement in the aid of those individuals, I surely know that I can be doing more and consequently, am in no place to criticize the measures of those before me. White abolitionists deserve credit, not the same credit, but they do deserve it. With all this being said, I am not in anyway denying my privileges as a white woman nor supporting the ideology of 'color blindness' in this country, there are differences, rather unfortunate inequalities but I have come to stand proud as a white woman who in no way tolerates ignorance, prejudice, hatred, or defilement. I admit, I haven't met many white people like me, but the truth is, I haven't met many human beings with my mindset in general.


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