I took an online course about the Civil War from Eric Foner at Columbia, and what he had to say about abolitionists was the most accurate thing I’ve ever heard on the subject. I’m not totally sure whether it’s okay to quote him directly, but this was the gist of it:
We might almost say that they are the ones who founded the modern American nation—not the founding fathers, who created a country talking about liberty but grounded in slavery, but the abolitionists, who put forward and eventually gotten written into our laws and Constitution the basic principles we all believe in today: that anybody should have the same legal rights, whatever their race or color or national origin. That’s an abolitionist position, it’s not a position from the founding generation. They rewrote the Constitution in Reconstruction to put that principle of equality into our national law, which had never been there before—all persons treated equally, regardless of race.
Angela Davis. Coretta Scott King. Fannie Lou Hamer. Malcolm X. Shirley Chisholm.
Booker T. Washington. Frederick Douglass. Colia Lafayette Clark. Ruby Bridges.
Maya Angelou. Amelia Boynton Robinson. Stokely Carmichael. Harriet Tubman.
Septima Poinsette Clark.
John Lewis. James Farmer. Ida B. Wells. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sheyann Webb.
Diane Nash. Rosa Parks. Jesse Jackson. Odetta. Roy Wilkins.