Summer greetings, fellow history buffs. In my mission to share little-known but important tidbits about Underground Railroad and black history, I give you two more:
Faith-based “Come-Outerism.” This was a movement by uncompromising abolitionists, in the antebellum years, that called on people to withdraw from churches that were soft on slavery. It took inspiration from a passage in Corinthians: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” Come-outers seceded from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches to form congregations that numbered 241,000 adherents by 1850, according to
Wikipedia. As I write in Embattled Freedom, my book about abolitionism in Waverly, Pa., Waverly had its share of staunch Immediatists who opposed slavery. But I hadn’t heard of the Come-Outers until a visit last month to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, in Peterboro, N.Y. Two of the figures it honors, John Rankin and Abby Kelley, were leaders of Come-Outerism who believed, as Kelley declared, “All the great family of mankind are bound up in one bundle.” Thanks to my cousin for introducing me to the Hall of Fame. I urge you all to put it on your bucket lists.
The “Exoduster” Movement. This was another principled departure — in this case taken by black people themselves. In the mid-1870s, the Reconstruction regime was collapsing in the South and white rule was being reimposed with a vengeance. In response, tens of thousands of Southern blacks pulled up stakes and headed for the Kansas frontier. They became known as “Exodusters.” A book I recently read, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen, recounts the Exodusters’ flight from oppressive sharecropping, the convict-lease labor system, political chicanery, “abject violence, night riding, lynching and other forms of terror.” Many Southern whites couldn’t believe the Exodusters were leaving at their own initiative but chalked it up to Yankee outside agitators. As one Northern newspaper observed, “The Southern white man is incontrovertibly fixed in the belief that the negro is incapable of any such thing as an independent, self-assertive movement.” Though the migration was hard, author Philip Dray writes that the Exodusters “read accurately the drift of history and of recent events: a long night of national disregard for their rights and humanity was indeed at hand.”
Book News. After completing ten author talks and signings in support of Embattled Freedom, I’m on a welcome summer hiatus. On Sept. 6, I’ll give a talk in Jenkintown, Pa., that kicks off a schedule of eleven appearances in Pennsylvania and New Jersey through February (with an additional five events in the works). My next e-newsletter will give the full details. Meanwhile, I was delighted to see the major review of my book in The Philadelphia Inquirer today. The reviewer erroneously states that Waverly had one hundred free black residents in 1840. He was confusing Waverly with Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Waverly had no black residents in 1840. That said, it was still a thrill to read his verdict: “Memorably and, at time, beautifully written and well-researched.”