Black Excellence

28 DOBE- Day 19: The Abolitionist, Dr. Henry Highland Garnet

Dr. Henry Highland Garnet, black history, black history month, black excellence, civil rights, black excellence
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28 Days of Black Excellence

An ongoing series for the entire 28 days of Black History Month that showcases the inventions, the people, and culture that makes people of the African diaspora so excellent.

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator color=”green” border_width=”3″][vc_column_text]Dr. Henry Highland Garnet was a foremost anti-slavery organizer. During his lifetime, the doctor was known as the “American Moses.” Why then, do we not know more about him, or, even highlight him in schools? He deserves as much a mention as MLK or Rosa Parks, as you will soon see.

Dr. Garnet was born into slavery in Maryland in 1812 and passed away in 1882. His parents carried him to the North, to freedom when he was nine. The beginning of his adventurous, renegade spirit.

As a teenager, Garnet attended Noyes Academy in New Hampshire, an integrated institution of higher learning founded by anti-slavery advocates. Suffering from an ailment that would eventually cost him his leg, the enterprising student discovered one day that area white farmers were plotting to destroy the school.

One Garnet biographer wrote he “spent most of the day in casting bullets in anticipation of the attack, and when the whites finally came he replied to their fire with a double-barreled shot-gun, blazing from his window, and soon drove the cowards away.” The assailants eventually did destroy the school in a fire; however, the extra time that shotgun blast permitted the students was enough to help them escape during the night.

RELATED: 28 DOBE- Day 18: The Farmer, Benjamin Banneker 

An outstanding orator, one of Dr. Garnet’s most influential, and by nature controversial, speeches happened in Buffalo in 1843, where he encouraged the armed uprising of slaves. “If you would be free in this generation, here is your only hope,” he said. He went on to say that as much as the crowd would not love to see the shedding of blood, that would be the only way to get the justice and freedom so many millions were lacking.

Garnet felt that the US government was invading places like Mexico in order to re-establish slavery, which had been abolished some time before. This is what he felt the Mexican-American War was all about in 1846. Many other citizens cited a hatred for Mexico as a reason for the clashes. However, blacks were fleeing America and settling in Mexico in order to escape the system imposed by slavery, and as Garnet pointed out, this would be a perfect excuse to reclaim them.

After helping to recruit black soldiers to the Union Army during the Civil War—and barely escaping a vengeful white mob during the New York Draft Riots of 1863—Dr. Garnet became the first African American to deliver a sermon to the United States Congress.

Said Garnet: “If slavery has been destroyed merely from necessity, let every class be enfranchised at the dictation of justice. Then we shall have a Constitution that shall be reverenced by all, rulers who shall be honored and revered, and a Union that shall be sincerely loved by a brave and patriotic people, and which can never be severed.” This was a man who truly meant business.

During the height of Reconstruction, Garnet rallied blacks to tie their struggles to the effort made by Cubans to free themselves from Spanish rule. In 1872, he organized the Anti-Cuban Slavery Committee, forming branches in California, Louisiana, Florida, and New York, amongst many other places.

Sadly, many believe that his controversial stance of armed conflict and outspokenness on issues that were international led to his later obscurity. Historians tended to focus on less-threatening figures in black history, relegating this icon to a diminished role in the narrative. Today, though, we will remember this awesome member of the black excellence community, despite what they say. Viva Dr. Henry Garnet![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Alex Miller

Alex Miller is a freelance writer living in Harlem. His work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other places.