Takes stock of the surprising rhetorical resources of abolitionists who were not both white and male
Offering an alternative account of the abolitionist movement, The Humblest May Stand Forth analyzes the rhetoric of African Americans and white females involved in the crusade against slavery and examines the particular strategies they chose to advocate despite their positions at the periphery of the movement. Jacqueline Bacon explores how these activists, rather than surrender to a society intent on keeping them quiet, identified and employed rhetorical strategies that would advance their message. Bacon explores the sometimes unconventional methods, organizations, and media they created to fight slavery on their own terms.
Drawing on such primary sources as letters, editorials, proslavery and antislavery tracts, and domestic manuals, Bacon probes antebellum notions of race and gender and the ways that these conceptions influenced the abolitionists' arguments. She suggests that abolitionists marginalized by race and gender developed a diverse, empowering, and theoretically complex array of rhetorical strategies that must be analyzed on their own terms.
Bacon studies the words of individual activists, including the well-known figures Frederick Douglass and Angelina Grimké and the less familiar reformers William Whipper, Charles Lenox Remond, Maria Stewart, and Sarah Douglass. She explains the various rhetorical strategies, both traditional and revolutionary, they used to persuade in different settings and before diverse audiences. She concludes that many marginalized abolitionists achieved a unique kind of agency at the same time they employed, in adapted form, strategies codified by twentieth-century rhetorical analysis, including those described by Kenneth Burke and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Bacon traces the legacy of the marginalized abolitionists' rhetoric in the discourse of the late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century activists Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimké, Malcolm X, and Audre Lorde.
Jacqueline Bacon holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She has published articles on the history of rhetoric, with a particular emphasis on African American rhetoric and women's rhetoric. An independent scholar, Bacon lives in San Diego, California. The author's website can be found at
"This thorough, important, and compelling study joins numerous others that consider rhetorical techniques African American slaves, male and female, and white female abolitionists used during the 19th century …Recommended with enthusiasm for upper-division undergraduates and above."—Choice
"If we wish to write more masterful rhetorical scholarship, The Humblest May Stand Forth is precisely the kind of tool we need."—Rhetoric Society Quarterly
"Students of antebellum American public address will find much to enjoy here, especially Bacon's central argument that those excluded from mainstream public discourse may utilize their position as an inventional space from which to produce persuasive rhetoric, hence advancing their specific cause while redeeming the nation's often forgotten promises regarding justice and liberty for all."—Rhetoric & Public Affairs
"Will interest those who want to explore the connections between rhetoric, communication, and the history of abolitionism. The fascinating abolitionists featured in this book deserve the careful attention of historians and scholars of rhetoric alike."—The Journal of Southern History