This week marks the annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and it seems important that we acknowledge some of the local individuals and organizations that played a role in the long and arduous campaign to abolish slavery back in the middle decades of the 19th century.
Newburyport is the North Shore community most closely associated with the American abolitionist movement. The busy industrial and shipbuilding community was the home of William Lloyd Garrison, who helped start the American Anti-Slavery Society and personally founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society. He also started and published the powerful abolitionist newspaper, "The Liberator."
Garrison would be one of the pre-eminent figures in the national movement to free American slaves from their bondage and to ensure for them all rights accorded other citizens. He stayed true to his mission, despite death threats, angry mobs and relentless vitriol from those who disagreed with his views.
When success came with President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the 13th Amendment, Garrison shut down "The Liberator" and moved on to other causes.
One of Garrison's closest Essex County allies in the anti-slavery movement was the Haverhill (later Amesbury) poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
A Quaker who opposed slavery on moral grounds, Whittier served the cause through his work as an editor of various anti-slavery periodicals and through the publication of collections of his abolitionist poems. Whittier was also active politically, serving as a lobbyist and helping organize the abolitionist Liberty Party.
Salem was another hotbed of abolitionism very early on in the movement, largely because of the presence of the Remond family in the city.
In the early 1830s, a chapter of the New England Anti-Slavery Society was organized in Salem, as was the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society. John Remond, an African-American caterer and manager of Hamilton Hall, and his children — Charles Lenox Remond and Sarah Parker Remond — would play key roles in the establishment and running of these active organizations.