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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

Am I Not a Man and a Brother?
c. 1837, New York
Wood engraving on wove paper

19 7/8 x 11 3/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum purchase funded by various donors

Arts of North America

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Our Countrymen in Chains” is accompanied by the illustration Am I Not a Man and a Brother? The Society for the Abolition of Slavery in England used this image as their society seal in the 1780s, and American abolitionists adopted it during the early 1800s.

The image of the kneeling male slave in chains was a popular and effective propaganda tool for anti-slavery activists. Hands chained, the slave seems to beg the reader: “Even though I am not your color, am I not a human being and a brother in Christ?” The poem seeks to prove that enslaved men, women, and children are Americans and thus citizens who do not deserve to be treated as pieces of property.

This image and poem questioned the legitimacy of slavery in America. Copies of this broadside were sold at the New York Anti-Slavery Office and by mail to spread anti-slavery sentiment throughout the northern United States. Throughout the early nineteenth century, abolitionists used propaganda such as Am I Not a Man and a Brother? to increase their supporters and argue for the end of slavery.

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