Christopher Cameron is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. This interview is based on his forthcoming book To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement (Kent State University Press, June 2014)
JF: What led you to write To Plead Our Own Cause?
CC: I began working on this book as a junior in college, when I wrote a short research paper on religion in the British and American abolitionist movements, using the narrative of Olaudah Equiano as my primary text. Equiano, a former slave in the West Indies who bought his own freedom and became a prominent abolitionist speaker, fascinated me to no end so I decided to continue researching black abolitionists in graduate school.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of To Plead Our Own Cause?
CC: I argue that Puritan law and theology profoundly shaped both the course of abolitionism in Massachusetts, providing African Americans with the opportunity and the ideas to build an antislavery movement during the late-colonial and revolutionary periods. Through petitioning, publishing essays, letters, and poetry, as well as forming the first antislavery society, blacks in Massachusetts helped to initiate the organized antislavery movement in America.
JF: Why do we need to read To Plead Our Own Cause?
CC: This book is one of the few to explore the early antislavery movement as well as eighteenth century African American intellectual history. In addition, the book helps us better understand the roots of radical abolitionism. It is written in a very accessible style, making it useful for both scholars and students.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
CC: I decided to become an American historian after participating in the McNair Undergraduate Opportunity Program. This program introduces first-generation and minority college students to research and life in academia. When I realized that being a historian meant I could spend most of my time reading, writing, and talking about subjects I found interesting, I was hooked.
JF: What is your next project?
CC: My new project is entitled “Liberal Religion and Slavery in America, 1775-1880.” Here I explore the role that liberal theology and liberal religious figures such as William Ellery Channing, Adin Ballou, and James Freeman Clarke played in debates over slavery.