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.
Pushing farther — the question is not just why, but also how did they use color. And as a part of the answer I think you might want to consider more than just the way color connected with readers. Why was color so important to create a connection? To answer this question I think you need to be looking at the anti-abolitionist literature as well because here, blackness connotes savagery, subhuman identity. Whiteness was one way to make the slave a human being. Why was it necessary for the slave to be seen as human — because *that* is what allowed white Northerners to identify with the plight of the slave. Hope this makes some sense and it’s probably one of your assumptions, but I think it might be an idea worth articulating and problemmatizing.
This sounds very good. I thought Dr Jones’ comment was spot on. Other things to consider: (1) Did they use color deliberately, as a propaganda technique, or simply because it reflected their own ideas and assumptions? (2) Was the specter of interracial sex always lurking in the background when they discussed and mobilized images of different shades of color? (3) Were there major differences on this point between different wings of the abolitionist movement?