J. Brent Morris
University of North Carolina Press, 2014, 332 pp. + 14 pp. introduction, $34.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
In the age of abolitionism, one institution stood out unlike any other. Oberlin was not just a college, but a whole community of people in the most diverse atmosphere ever imagined. In the antebellum period, this was the place which shone as a haven for escaped slaves and the diverse population helped to aid the cause of the abolitionists. In his work, J. Brent Morris gives us the history of the institution not only throughout the antebellum period but gives us an outlook into the world of the school and the culture which is helped to create. Oberlin: Hotbed of Abolitionism is a work that stands out like no other; it melds the history of an institution with the world of the antebellum period bringing us to the forefront of the American Civil War.
J. Brent Morris is the assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. He received his PhD in 2010 from Cornell University and lectures on slavery and anti-slavery in the United States. He is also the author of Yes Lord I Know the Road and has written many articles and encyclopedia entries on the subject in prominent publications. J. Brent Morris was also the recipient of South Carolina Historical Society’s Malcolm C. Clark’s Award in 2010 which is given for excellence in a scholarly article in the society’s journal.
The book opens with a lengthy introduction into the history of the institution and the people who helped to create the abolitionist society created by the university. As I read through the pages, I began to realize the progressive nature of Oberlin and all of the different types of study from the college and how it seeped into the people of the community. The incredible push of religiosity explained in these pages shows the great impact of the Second Great Awakening on all of the country. However, in Oberlin, Morris makes a point that it all did not start in Ohio, but all around the East Coast. As the text continued, I realized the impact which this place had on the cause of abolitionism in which every person, man and woman, had to be a part of the whole operation. After reading the introduction, this was no surprise since Oberlin seemed steeped into equality which, as stated before, empowered progressivism of the very age. The fights which the abolitionists in Oberlin partook of after the Mexican War and the expansion of slavery seemed difficult but not out of control for them. The author finishes the work in an epilogue of the events which have occurred in Oberlin to this day and even talks about the issues of racism as the work was being finished.
What was amazing to me as I read through the pages was the incredible feats of the people of not only the college, but of the community of Oberlin. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of slavery during the antebellum period and anyone who studies the slavery movement in the nineteenth century. The things accomplished by the people of this community not only showed that the abolition movement was much stronger than many other historians would have you tend to think, but had a strong headquarter like hub from where they could operate without any shrouds. I was also amazed at the breadth of research which Morris has placed into this work without bogging down the narrative as the chapters flowed easily from one to the next. Highly recommended.