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They Talk about Free: Abolition, Freedom, and the Politics of Speech

They Talk about Free: Abolition, Freedom, and the Politics of Speech

Chapter:
(p.189) Five They Talk about Free: Abolition, Freedom, and the Politics of Speech
Source:
The Freedom of Speech
Author(s):
Miles Ogborn
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226657714.003.0006

This chapter examines the part speech played the movements against slavery and for the abolition of the slave trade, attending to a range of different voices. It asks how freedom and abolition were talked about in Britain and in the Caribbean, and what difference that made in terms of who could speak and how they were heard. Pursuing this, the chapter works through three related inquiries into orality and anti-slavery. First, how the enslaved voice was represented in the abolitionist and pro-slavery literature of the late eighteenth century. Second, how questions of class, race, and gender shaped the speech practices of abolitionist debate and activism (including speakers such as Olaudah Equiano) as a mass movement was being mobilized. And third, how the abolition and anti-slavery movements in Britain intersected with the political talk of the enslaved in the Caribbean during the conspiracies and revolts of the early nineteenth century. Taken together, these inquiries show that the rethinking of abolitionist activism in terms of print culture, visual culture, and material culture, also needs to consider oral culture, and that doing so enables that political movement to be understood on the same ground as the forms of resistance of the enslaved themselves.

Keywords:   freedom, abolition, anti-slavery, Olaudah Equiano, oral culture, class, race, gender, resistance, slave revolts

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