Henry Highland Garnet

Henry Highland Garnet (December 23, 1815 – February 13, 1882) was an African-American abolitionist, minister, educator and orator. An advocate of militant abolitionism, Garnet was a prominent member of the movement that led beyond moral suasion toward more political action. Renowned for his skills as a public speaker, he urged blacks to take action and claim their own destinies. For a period, he supported emigration of American free blacks to Mexico, Liberia or the West Indies, but the American Civil War ended that effort.

Henry Garnet was born into slavery in New Market, Frederick County, Maryland, on December 23, 1815. In 1824, the family, which included a total of 11 members, secured permission to attend a funeral, and from there, they all escaped in a covered wagon, first to Wilmington, Delaware, and then to New York City, where from 1826 through 1833, Garnet attended the African Free School, and the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth. While in school, Garnet began his career in abolitionism.

Garnet later married Julia Williams, whom he had met as a fellow student at the Noyes Academy. Together they had three children, only one of whom survived to adulthood.

By 1849 Garnet began to support emigration of blacks to Mexico, Liberia, or the West Indies, where he thought they would have more opportunities. In support of this, he founded the African Civilization Society. Similar to the British African Aid society, it sought to establish a West African colony in Yoruba (present-day Nigeria). Garnet advocated a kind of black nationalism in the United States, which included establishing separate sections of the nation to be black colonies.

In 1850, he went to Great Britain at the invitation of the Free Labor Movement, which opposed slavery by rejecting the use of products produced by slave labor. He was a popular lecturer, and spent two and a half years lecturing. In 1852 Garnet was sent to Kingston, Jamaica, as a missionary. He spent three years there, until his health forced him back to the United States.

Garnet’s last wish was to go to Liberia to live, even for a few weeks, and to die there. He was appointed as the U.S. Minister to Liberia in late 1881, and died in Africa two months later. Garnet was given a state funeral by the Liberian government and was buried at Palm Grove Cemetery in Monrovia.[6] Frederick Douglass, who had not been on speaking terms with Garnet for many years because of their differences, still mourned Garnet’s passing and noted his achievements.

Henry Highland Garnet