2/19 — African American Reactions (1)

  • Before Uncle Tom, the most famous representative of the enslaved population in the U.S. was probably Frederick Douglass. While doing research for her novel, Stowe read his 1845 Narrative, and even wrote Douglass at one point to ask specifically for his help in writing about Legree's plantation. (It's not known if he wrote back; neither Stowe nor Douglass had ever been further south than the border states of Kentucky and Maryland.) Interestingly, Douglass never wrote a review of Uncle Tom's Cabin, though in his newspaper he did comment a number of times on it, and during 1852-1853 opened its columns to letters from other blacks and reprints of a wide range of articles from other papers about the novel.
    The UTC archive contains the images of one entire 4-page issue of Frederick Douglass' Paper, for 18 March 1853. In addition to articles about Stowe's novel, that issue also contains an installment of Douglass' own "Heroic Slave" (see below), so take a look at the paper by CLICKING HERE.
    Looking at that will give you the context for the articles on the list below: a sampling of what was said or reprinted in Frederick Douglass' Paper about Stowe's book —
        Douglass' Notice 1 April 1852
        Anti-Slavery Society Meeting 27 May 1852
        Letter from "Ethiop" 17 June 1852
        Review of Graham's Review 21 January 1853
        Douglass Visits Stowe 4 March 1853
        Letter from Martin Delany (1) 1 April 1853
        Review of Stowe's Key 29 April 1853
        Letter from Martin Delany (2) 29 April 1853
        Letter from Martin Delany (3) 6 May 1853
        Call for a National Colored Convention 20 May 1853
        Letter from William Wells Brown 10 June 1853
        Holly Poem to Stowe 22 July 1853

  • OPTIONAL: The articles above don't include any dealing with the controversy about the money Stowe was given by her fans in Britain, to support the abolitionist cause. As Douglass recounts in the second edition of his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), before Stowe left for Europe she asked his advice about how the money could best be spent. When she was attacked by defenders of slavery for accepting the money, at the request of her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, Douglass defended her motives and plans in his paper. He was consequently very disappointed when, after Stowe's return, nothing came of the plans they had discussed, though he declined to attack her directly. If you're interested in this story, or the other articles on Uncle Tom that Douglass published in his paper, CLICK HERE

  • One specific concern to black and other anti-slavery readers was Stowe's decision, at the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin, to have so many of her black characters choose to emigrate to Liberia, the country set up on the west coast of Africa by the American Colonization Society as a "home" to which emancipated slaves could be sent. The following letters and articles all deal with that aspect of the novel:
        "MANHATTAN" to National Era (1 May 1852)
        Henry C. Wright to Liberator (9 July 1852)
        "Philo-Africanus" to Independent (26 August 1852)
        Reply to Wright, in Liberator (17 September 1852)
        "Jus." to the New York Times (25 April 1853)
        "C.V.S." to Provincial Freeman (22 July 1854)

  • Although Douglass was very circumspect in all his comments on Uncle Tom's Cabin, the one work of fiction he ever wrote, a novella about a revolt on a slaveship written and published the year after Stowe's novel appeared, can be read as an attempt to re- or unwrite her story. Read it for yourself, and our class, at:
        "The Heroic Slave" Homepage