Stamped from the Beginning Characters
by Ibram X. Kendi

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Stamped from the Beginning Characters

The main characters in Stamped from the Beginning are Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Dubois, and Angela Davis.

  • Cotton Mather was a Puritan pastor who considered the christianization of slaves to be his life's mission.
  • Thomas Jefferson is an American founder who valued liberty but owned slaves throughout his life.
  • William Lloyd Garrison was a key abolitionist who helped precipitate the eradication of slavery.
  • W. E. B. Dubois was a Black academic and author who sought to show the value of Black lives to prejudiced whites.
  • Angela Davis is a prominent academic and activist focused on Black women's rights and prison reform.

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Cotton Mather 

Born in New England in 1663, Cotton Mather was the descendant of Puritans who had fled England due to religious persecution. Influenced by missionary Richard Baxter, who felt that slavery was a kindness that introduced Black people to the word of God, Mather saw it as his life’s duty to transform Black people into Christians in order to morally improve them. Graduating from Harvard at the age of fifteen, he became co-pastor of the North Church in Boston and preached that Puritans were bound by duty to preach the word of God to slaves so that their souls could be “washed white.” His influence encouraged many to baptize their slaves. By the time of his death, the idea that slavery was a kindness to Black people was almost universally accepted in America. 

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an important figure in the early history of the United States. He is known as one of the founders of the nation and the architect of the Declaration of Independence. He endorsed freedom for all, but it is hotly debated as to what he actually meant when he spoke of independence for “all Men” in his Declaration. 

Jefferson’s interaction with slaves and Blacks throughout his life was complex. He was born in the home of a slaveholder, owned his own slaves throughout his life, and had many children with Sally Hemingsm one of his slaves. While he did, at her request, free the children they shared together, he seemed to see no issue with having a relationship with a Black woman while at the same time promulgating ideas about the hypersexuality and lack of morality of Black women. Jefferson is shown to have changed his opinions about slavery and Blackness depending on the political situation at the time. While England pushed for abolition, Jefferson told abolitionists in America that it was the king who forced them to keep their slaves. At the same time, he positioned slaves as opponents of free America because so many ran away to join British forces. Ultimately, it seems that Jefferson did not wish to end slavery because it suited him personally and economically. Even though his rhetoric gestured towards the importance of liberty, he relied on slavery and thus refused to denounce it. 

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison was a white American journalist and prominent abolitionist. At first, he campaigned for gradual emancipation, an idea which relied upon racist and paternalistic assumptions about the capacity of Black people to organize themselves and build their own communities. However, convinced by the arguments he heard from Black Baptist communities to which he was exposed, Garrison soon began to call for the immediate emancipation of all enslaved Blacks in the United States. 

A founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Garrison was also notable in that he strongly opposed the idea of colonization—or exporting Black Americans to a plot of land in Africa—which was gaining traction during the nineteenth century. A trained printer and journalist, Garrison used his newspaper, The Liberator, as a vehicle of political change. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, Garrison became more involved in the push for women’s suffrage, as well as for increased civil rights for newly freed Blacks. 

W. E. B. Du Bois 

Born in 1868 and dying...

(The entire section is 928 words.)