Black Abolitionists and Masculinity in the Age of American Emancipation, 1833-1863



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In an effort to fill a lacuna in the historiography of black abolitionists and gender studies, this dissertation examines black abolitionists’ conceptions of masculinity and their efforts to grapple with manhood in a time of great change and transition. The focus of this work are three escaped slaves who became black abolitionists—Henry Bibb, William Wells Brown, and Frederick Douglass—they serve as “representative men” for this unique study at the intersection of race, power, masculinity, and intellectual engagement. These men constituted part of a select group that made dramatic attacks on society in order to emancipate millions of people from bondage. I argue that masculinity for black abolitionists, such as these men, was not limited to physical action but was a composite or compound masculinity that included protection of their families, success in their careers, and active intellectual engagement. Black intellectual abolitionists’ composite masculinity formed as they progressed from the “resistant masculinity” within slavery through “protective masculinity” and “self-made masculinity” to a unique “intellectual masculinity” of their own construction. It was through this engagement as public intellectuals that these men demonstrated their manhood and performed an “intellectual masculinity” which garnered their place among America’s “great men” of the nineteenth century.



Black Abolitionist, Masculinity