Home > Books Unbound > Books Unbound – Not Light, But Fire: Readings from African-American Abolitionists

Books Unbound – Not Light, But Fire: Readings from African-American Abolitionists


To close Black History Month, words that inspired hope and incited action in the struggle for the abolition of slavery and for the empowerment of people of African descent in the United States.

Two hundred years of chattel slavery shaped the economic and political life of the United States. The consequences of slavery still affect the country’s economy and national institutions, political decisions and discourse, and our culture, speech, ideas, and fears. Lingering in systems of racism, oppression, and discrimination against people of color, the consequences of slavery are still affecting lives right now.

Slavery has been called America’s “original sin,” a major part of American history that the country as a whole remains reluctant to talk about or atone for. Now, 150 years after the end of legal slavery, popular culture and scholarship show renewed interest in addressing this history and the repercussions of the “sins of the fathers,” and in learning from those who fought to change hearts, minds, and the system itself in the name of justice and freedom.

 Featured readings: 

  • David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829) – excerpts from a radical anti-slavery pamphlet that called for immediate freedom for all slaves in the United States; read by I. James Torry
  • Maria W. Stewart, “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?” (1831) – the first public political lecture given by an American-born woman; read by Imani Rameses
  • Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?” (1851/1863) – the famous speech delivered in 1851 (as recalled by women’s rights activist Frances Dana Gage in 1863), and the report of the speech that appeared in the Anti-Slavery Bugle in 1851; read by Renee Reed
  • Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (1852) and “The Destiny of Colored Americans” (1849) – a speech delivered at a ceremony commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and an article from an issue of Douglass’s abolitionist newspaper The North Star; read by Frank Buczolich

Special music comes from “O Freedom,” performed by The Golden Gospel Singers on their 1997 album a cappella praise for Blue Flame Records; “Go Down Moses,” performed by Roland Hayes and recorded in 1922; “Wade in the Water,” performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock for a 2012 episode of God’s Greatest Hits on Vision TV Canada; and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” from the album Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns, and Folk Songs by Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, released in 1995 by Verve Records.  Theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

The announcer is Renee Reed. Sarah Torbeck hosts. This episode was produced, written, and edited by Sarah Torbeck with series producer Cynthia Wolfe. Executive producer is Joe Crawford.

 IMAGE: Sojourner Truth, from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; photo taken circa 1870

Check Also

Books Unbound – Safe as Houses, Part Two: An Anthology

Our strange and surprising relationships with house and household objects are explored in an early …