Quakers, Anti-Slavery, and the Underground Freedom Center

By Nikole Darnell

On February 7, the staff members of the Digital Literature Review took a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The experience was phenomenal; each member took a particular interest in various aspects of the museum and learned a great deal. Having an extensive Quaker heritage, I was particularly interested in the role that members of the Quaker church played in helping oppressed slaves escape to freedom.

Photo taken by author

Quaker Facts (Photo taken by author)

When people hear about Quakers and the Underground Railroad, they often picture a strict and pious group of people who were unconditionally against slavery and opened up their homes to runaways. I admit, I often thought this as well in my younger years. While Quakers did aid slaves on their journeys to freedom, this wasn’t always the case. According to displays at the museum, prior to 1740, many members of the Quaker church actively participated in the purchasing and selling of enslaved people. I was personally surprised to learn this. Ever since I was little, I had been told that all Quakers were against slavery and that they always had been. The museum states that the church initially did not oppose slavery, but over time they became disgusted by the practice and set out to do something about it. The Freedom Center does an excellent job of demonstrating how Quakers participated in the Underground Railroad and led the way in the antislavery movement.

As one travels through the museum, they find themselves walking a timeline, following the lives of brave men and women who dedicated their lives to the cause of abolitionism. Quaker minister Samuel Hopkins was one of these people. In 1758, the Quaker church, led by Hopkins, voted to exclude members who continued to participate in the purchasing or selling of slaves. The museum credits Hopkins as one of the first people to actively argue for antislavery. His ideas spread, and by 1776, the majority of the Quaker church opposed the practice of slavery. From this time until emancipation in 1865, many Quakers across the nation offered their homes to escaped slaves and helped them find their way to freedom. Throughout the museum, several donated artifacts that belonged to individual abolitionists are visible, such as a ceramic figure of Uncle Tom and a first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Perhaps the most well-known of the Quaker abolitionists depicted at the Freedom Center are Levi and Catharine Coffin. According to the museum, the Coffins turned their home in Newport, Indiana into a safe house, and it is estimated that they hid over 2000 runaways. In 1847, they moved to Cincinnati and opened a warehouse that produced goods exclusively made by paid labor. From 1861 until their deaths, the Coffins raised money to benefit the education of former slaves. In a single year alone, they managed to raise more than $100,000. Today, their house in Newport (now known as Fountain City, Indiana) is open as a museum and as a surviving testament to the kindhearted work that the Coffins accomplished throughout their lives. I feel that the Freedom Center’s exhibit on the Coffins would be strengthened by possibly borrowing artifacts from the Coffin House Museum. As it currently stands, the Freedom Center has little on the Coffins other than very generic information. After all, at one point, Levi Coffin was known as the “president of the Underground Railroad.”

(Photo taken by author)

(Photo taken by author)

While I previously knew about Quaker involvement in the anti-slavery movement, the Underground Railroad Freedom Center also showed how many Quakers were also strong proponents of women’s suffrage. As a result, they highlight the ways that many activists took on multiple and connected instances of injustice. Well-known activist Susan B. Anthony grew up in a Quaker household and dedicated her life to abolition and women’s suffrage. Likewise, fellow Quaker and suffragette Lucretia Mott actively participated in anti-slavery propaganda. In 1833, she attended the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society, the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, and the 1848 “Declaration of Sentiments” meeting at Seneca Falls. Afterwards in 1850, she published her book, Discourse on Women.

According to the Freedom Center, writing became a very powerful tool that the Quakers used to combat slavery. In 1857, Daniel Worth circulated Hinton Rowan Helper’s The Impending Crisis of the South, which stated that slavery would undoubtedly lead to the South’s downfall. Worth was arrested in North Carolina for promoting the book under the pretenses of violating the state’s “incendiary publications” law of 1830. This law banned books that portrayed slaves being unhappy in their given situation. The Freedom Center also displays other famous Quaker writers of this time, including the Grimké sisters, Angelia and Sarah. In 1835, Angelina Grimké published a pamphlet entitled, An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, which pleaded with women of the time to oppose slavery and stated that slavery went against Christian values. Along with display, the museum has an abundant amount of information about how Quakers were actively involved in abolitionist activities.

I found my visit to Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Freedom Center to be an incredibly invaluable experience. The museum does an effective job of arranging the exhibits so that they display slavery in a sensitive manner, while still portraying its evils and providing an educational experience for the public. Any visitor to the museum will learn a great deal about the struggles and oppression of slaves and their journey to freedom. Additionally, it manages to preserve the history of abolitionism and depict how certain groups, such as the Quakers, played a role in putting an end to one of America’s darkest periods. Whether it’s hiding runaway slaves or publishing work about the atrocities of slavery, Quakers certainly made their mark in the world of abolitionism. I personally learned a lot about these courageous people and I feel confident in saying that many future visitors will as well.

The “Making Literature” Conference Experience

By Isaha Cook

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The Team

On February 26, 2015, a group of DLR students—Esther Wolfe, Daniel Brount, Jeff Owens, Bryce Longenberger, and Isaha Cook—traveled to Taylor University to attend the “Making Literature” conference. If I were to say that the DLR team’s efforts at the conference were epic in their nature, my exaggeration would only be a minor one. It takes a few special individuals to go from opening for a main act, to becoming the sole act in only a few productively panicked moments. While they were preparing to be followed by the conference’s keynote speaker for that night, Miho Nonaka, the team was informed that Miho was stuck in bad weather and would not make it on time. Our team members were then asked if they could stretch their fifteen-minute presentation while the conference organizers found a way to cover the loss of their keynote speaker. Of course, like academic superheroes, the members of DLR humbly agreed to give it their best.

Esther and the team decided that it would be best to proceed with the original plan and present on the Digital Literature Review’s ins and outs, current topics, and the upcoming issue for next year. Then, each team member would, on the spot, explain their own individual research projects, something that they had not planned on discussing. In this way, the team members would each get to expand the total presentation time, while also further illuminating potential forthcoming work in the DLR’s second issue, Slavery Now.

The first part of the presentation went smoothly. Esther started off by explaining her role as the lead of the Editorial team for the DLR, and laying out how the process worked for members of that team. She explained that members of the Editorial team took part in reviewing submissions, producing acceptance or denial letters, and finally slogging through the task of ensuring that each accepted article was perfect in the areas of grammar and structure. Following her, Daniel spoke about his role as the leader of the Design team. He explained the process: brainstorming, refining, and layout. Members of the Design team were responsible for the creation of advertising materials, the designing of the cover art, and the layout of the inner pages where the articles are found. He provided examples of some of the design elements they were currently working on for Slavery Now.

The Presentation

The Presentation

Lastly, the two other members of the presentation team, Bryce and Jeff, explained the responsibilities of the Publicity team and how our WordPress blog was being run to promote the issue before its release. They also went on to promote the DLR’s involvement with the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. In tandem, the two were able to clearly explain the duties that a member of the Publicity team performed: creating content for our social media, overseeing the publication of blog posts on our WordPress site, and ensuring that the advertisement materials are disseminated to the proper places.

Under the watchful gaze of instructors, students, and the conference organizers, our courageous DLR members finished the initial presentation and stretched their fifteen minutes into a glorious main event lasting nearly an hour. They explained, one after another, the various research projects related to “Slavery Now” that they had been working individually on for a semester and more. They spoke about delicate topics from how best to represent slavery issues to a modern world, to how authors can broach the sensitive subject with younger readers.

The audience members seemed to take to the personalities of our presenting members, but, more than that, they recognized the passion that Esther, Daniel, Jeff, and Bryce had for the content of this year’s DLR issue. Our team spoke with intelligence, precision, and passion, inciting the audience to pepper them with questions and positive feedback. As the DLR team left the stage, a good portion of the audience lined up to continue the discussions on a more personal basis, and I couldn’t help but wonder: “What’s in store for our release, if we can garner this much interest with improvisational efforts?” I do know that I look forward to it with great eagerness.

Slavery in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”

By: Nikole Darnell

At first glance, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936) is incredibly daunting. At 1024 pages, people will often pass over it in favor of something shorter. However, those who decide to take on the challenge of reading the whole book are certainly in for an incredible story.

When I was young, I fell in love with the beautiful dresses the Southern belles wore and the parties they went to and their various dances. I fell in love with Scarlett O’Hara: men wanted her and women wanted to be her. Nothing stood in her way: not Yankees, not Carpetbaggers, and certainly not that “scallywag” Rhett Butler. As I grew older, I began to appreciate Margaret Mitchell’s writing style and the way that the book made me feel on an emotional level. My heart began to break for Scarlett because of all the challenges that she was forced to overcome at such a young age.

Saucy Scarlett (Image Source)

Saucy Scarlett (Image Source)

Yet, I also began to think beyond the character of Scarlett O’Hara and the people around her who weren’t given nearly as much of a voice: her slaves. The book clearly presents a romantic view of the Old South and also unfortunately glorifies slavery. One can hardly think about Gone with the Wind without thinking of the old south and all that goes with it—slavery included. Although the major plantation owners in the book all own slaves, the issue of slavery is hardly even addressed. Gone with the Wind follows the notoriously vain Scarlett O’Hara and her adventures in the south during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Slaves are present throughout the pages, but don’t play a major role in the story. In fact, even though the novel is well over a thousand pages, the word “slave(s)” only appears 82 times. It seems to me that a book that takes place in the Deep South during the 1860s would focus largely on slavery, but this isn’t the case. The purpose of Gone with the Wind is to follow the life of a young girl who grows up during this time period.

Scarlett O’Hara is more concerned with her romantic life and money than with the changing social and political environment around her. Even after Union soldiers had damaged Tara, her beloved plantation, Scarlett only worries about finding someone to marry so she can have access to his money. She stops at nothing to get what she wants and even goes as far as stealing her sister’s wealthy boyfriend. But something I find even stranger than Scarlett’s ignorance of the world around her is the way the slaves, particularly Mammy, regard the family.

While Mammy is not considered a main character in the novel, she plays a pivotal role in the progression of the story since she raised Scarlett and her sisters. We never learn Mammy’s real name; that is the title given to her when she was gifted to Mrs. O’Hara as a girl, and that is what she is called throughout the novel. Mammy serves as a nurse and caretaker to the O’Hara children, and this implies a faux-maternal relationship. The name “Mammy” is eerily close to the word “Mommy.” Scarlett and her sisters often regard Mammy as a second mother, and yet she is considered their property. Despite being owned by other humans and being stripped of her name, Mammy is as loyal to the O’Haras as can be. She even goes as far as to order the family around, as she commonly does with Scarlett: “It had always been a struggle to teach Scarlett that most of her natural impulses were unladylike. Mammy’s victories over Scarlett were hard-won and represented guile unknown to the white mind.” The other slaves in the book are not nearly as bold as Mammy and would never dream of standing up to the O’Haras. This difference is most likely due to the faux-maternal relationship Mammy has with the family, and Mitchell implies that Mammy can boss the family around and get away with it, even though she is considered to be an object. Mitchell also implies, in a racist manner, that African-American women have a kind of “guile” that allows them to manipulate those under their care. Adding to this racist fantasy, Mitchell further suggests that Mammy doesn’t find anything wrong with being owned by another human being. Ironically, neither do any of the other slave characters.

The novel also engages with the issue of slavery in other respects. At one point, Scarlett’s father can be heard complaining about how the Yankees want to take his “darkies” without compensation. Even Ashley Wilkes, arguably one of the more noble characters of the novel, has the following exchange with Scarlett:

“I can’t make money from the enforced labor and misery of others.”

“But you owned slaves!”

“They weren’t miserable. And besides, I’d have freed them all when Father died if the war hadn’t already freed them.”

Ashley states that his slaves weren’t miserable, as if there were nothing wrong with a human owning another human at all. Here, Ashley is insinuating that his slaves don’t mind being owned because “they weren’t miserable.” Incredibly racist passages such as these can be off-putting to readers. It is enough to make someone cringe by merely suggesting that it’s all right to own slaves as long as they aren’t unhappy. This idea is, of course, absolutely absurd. You can be kind to someone, but once you have ownership of them, every kind act you do to them is irrelevant. You cannot own someone and still believe that you have their best interests at heart.

Rhett Butler (Source Image)

Rhett Butler (Source Image)

In spite of all this, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is by far my favorite novel. While it is true that its pages are filled with racial intolerance and ignorance, it is also a powerful coming of age story about a strong, yet incredibly self-centered, woman in the southern United States. Scarlett O’Hara is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and while she manages to make quite a few enemies, she is also loved by many. I often feel guilty about claiming Gone with the Wind as my favorite novel because, at times, it can be appallingly racist. Because it provides us with a romantic view of the Old South in the 1860’s, it also, unfortunately, provides an interesting insight into racist depictions of slavery through its portrayal of African Americans. The film version of Gone with the Wind portrays the slaves as happy-go-lucky people with no drive or desires of their own who don’t mind being enslaved. In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. When watching the movie or reading the book, one should definitely keep an eye out for the contrasts between reality and fiction. As a child, I enjoyed this story and loved it at face value—I saw only a story about a strong central female character and her challenges. As an adult, I am able to see that the novel is about so much more.

When reading the book through a lens that considers issues of racial prejudice, it becomes an entirely new story, one that forces us to confront the ugly realities of American history. However, the book still has plenty to offer and shouldn’t be dismissed just because it has unfavorable subject matter. It’s true that the story features slavery—something totally abhorrent—but it also has an impressive narrative structure and strong, developed characters. This juxtaposition of both excellent writing and horrific racism truly makes Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind a novel worth reading and thinking about for anybody interested in the interconnections between great literature/storytelling and the history of slavery.

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Works Cited

Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind. Australia: 2002. Project Gutenburg Australia. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. N.p. http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200161.txt

“Digital Literature Review” Issue 2: Slavery Now

After a successful year of researching ghosts and haunting, it’s time to introduce our theme for the new edition of the Digital Literature Review. Our research topic has transitioned into studying the cultural significance and complications of contemporary discourses about slave systems, both past and present.

Some of the research we have conducted has included studying historical slave narratives such as Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave. We also delved into contemporary slave narratives, such as those featured in Jesse Sage and Liora Kasten’s Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery. In addition to our readings, we are studying the following films about slavery: 12 Years a Slave, Sankofa, and Django Unchained.

books mashup

Some of the books we’ve read in class.

In accordance with our new theme, we have redesigned our Twitter, Facebook, and this blog. We encourage you to explore our social media pages as we have already begun to post related news articles and other resources that are connected to contemporary slavery. Stay engaged with us as we explore modern slavery more in depth over the upcoming months. You can expect weekly blog posts from students in our class, daily shares on Facebook and Twitter, and updates on how our publication is going.

If you are an undergraduate who is personally interested in our research, feel free to read over our call for papers and submit to our journal. You can also write for our blog if you’d rather not submit an essay. Please email dlr@bsu.edu with any submissions or questions.


We hope that you will enjoy the future content we share on our various media outlets and become part of the conversation surrounding contemporary slavery.