Why were different shades of color used in American abolitionists publications to describe slaves? I argue depictions and descriptions of “whiteness” were used in conjunction with family images, religious rhetoric, and miscegenation as a strategy to illicit emotional responses in the readers of antislavery publications from 1830 – 1865. I will be using several abolitionist newspapers, slave narratives, and images to track the use of color as a tactic in the antislavery movement and to show the importance of “whiteness” in the fight against slavery.
Social movements use emotional responses combined with reason to attract people sympathetic to their cause. Color, more specifically the meaning of whiteness for Americans, was a tactic used by abolitionists to connect with current readers and attract new supporters. By examining the various antislavery publications I hope to show some of the earliest examples of whiteness in antislavery publications and show this was a tactic continually adopted by abolitionists. When paired with other tactics, color could enable these publications to potentially reach a much wider audience and connect on an emotional level with their readers. “Whiteness” as a tactic has been somewhat overlooked by abolitionist historians and I hope to add to the discussion of female mobilization within the antislavery movement by examining color and its meanings to those sympathetic to abolitionists.