Blacks played a leading role in the antislavery movement. Even before the appearance of The Liberator, as we have seen, northern free blacks had organized in opposition to the Colonization Society. James Forten, a successful black sailmaker in Philadelphia, helped to finance The Liberator in its early years. As late as 1834, northern blacks, attracted by Garrison’s rejection of colonization and his demand for equal rights for black Americans, made up a majority of the journal’s subscribers. Several blacks served on the board of directors of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and northern-born blacks and fugitive slaves quickly emerged as major organizers and speakers.
The frontispiece of the 1848 edition of David Walker’s Appeal and Henry Highland Garnet’s Address to the Slaves depicts a black figure receiving “liberty” and “justice”from heaven.
Frederick Douglass was only one among many former slaves who published accounts of their lives in bondage; these accounts convinced thousands of northerners of the evils of slavery. Indeed, the most effective piece of antislavery literature of the entire period, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was to some extent modeled on the autobiography of fugitive slave Josiah Henson. Serialized in 1851 in a Washington antislavery newspaper and published as a book the following year, Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold more than 1 million copies by 1854, and it also inspired numerous stage versions. By portraying slaves as sympathetic men and women, and as Christians at the mercy of slaveholders who split up families and set bloodhounds on innocent mothers and children, Stowe’s melodrama gave the abolitionist message a powerful human appeal.