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Linda Hirshman

The Color of Abolition: How a Printer, a Prophet, and a Contessa
Moved a Nation

Author Linda Hirshman on her new book, The Color of Abolition: How a Printer, a Prophet, and a Contessa Moved a Nation, which looks at the triumvirate of abolition activists, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Maria Weston Chapman, who changed the world with their dedication and work towards abolition.


The story of the fascinating, fraught alliance among Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Maria Weston Chapman–and how its breakup led to the success of America’s most important social movement

In the crucial early years of the Abolition movement, the Boston branch of the cause seized upon the star power of the eloquent ex-slave Frederick Douglass to make its case for slaves’ freedom. Journalist William Lloyd Garrison promoted emancipation while Garrison loyalist Maria Weston Chapman, known as “the Contessa,” raised money and managed Douglass’s speaking tour from her Boston townhouse.

Conventional histories have seen Douglass’s departure for the New York wing of the Abolition party as a result of a rift between Douglass and Garrison. But, as acclaimed historian Linda Hirshman reveals, this completely misses the woman in power. Weston Chapman wrote cutting letters to Douglass, doubting his loyalty; the Bostonian abolitionists were shot through with racist prejudice, even aiming the N-word at Douglass among themselves. Through incisive, original analysis, Hirshman convinces that the inevitable breakup was in fact a successful failure.Eventually, as the most sought-after Black activist in America, Douglass was able to dangle the prize of his endorsement over the Republican Party’s candidate for President, Abraham Lincoln. Two years later the abolition of slavery–if not the abolition of racism–became immutable law.

[Recorded on April 7, 2022.]

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      Linda Hirshman

      Linda Hirshman is a lawyer, social historian and author of Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution and many other books. Sisters in Law was a New York Times and Washington Post Bestseller and NPR pick of the year for 2015. The stage adaptation of Sisters in Law premiered on April 3, 2019 at the Phoenix Theatre. The 2017 ABC miniseries When We Rise was based in part on the story of Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. Linda received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and her PhD in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has taught philosophy and women’s studies at Brandeis University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, The Atlantic, the Daily Beast, and POLITICO. Prior to publishing several bestselling books, Linda was an influential labor attorney. She brought three cases in front of the Supreme Court during the Burger era, including the landmark case Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985). Linda has argued cases in front of all twelve U.S. Courts of Appeals. She lives in NYC and Phoenix. www.lindahirshman.com