American enslavement brought about many complications with regard to family development for African people. As discussed, Martin Delaney’s parents had a direct connection to the continent of Africa. This connection deeply influenced Delaney’s politics and the course of his life, blossoming into dreams and hopes of an African American exodus. For Henry Highland Garnet’s family, things were a bit different. The Garnet’s had been tethered to the horrors of American enslavement for three generations. Henry Highland’s grandfather was ripped from Africa’s bosom and brought to the Americas during the latter half of the 18th century. Sterling Stuckey states: “His grandfather had gone through the whole process of captivity in Africa, the middle passage and enslavement in America, where he also saw his offspring, Henry’s father, enslaved.” This experience shaped Henry’s father but it did not define him; he escaped enslavement with his family to New York when Henry was still a boy, a move that would inspire young Henry throughout his life. This essay will discuss the life of Henry Highland Garnet and his trek back to the continent of Africa.
Though the Garnets were a couple generations removed from Africa, as a family they embraced their African-ness with purpose and intention. To elaborate, when the Garnet’s were safely in the non-slave holding state of New York, George Garnet, Henry’s father, developed an ad hoc naming ceremony for himself and family. By this, they proactively chose to discard the names given to them and adopted new names, more fitting for their new identity as free people. The ceremony of this process was dynamic and ceremonial: George Garnet sat each member of his family down and renamed them with the intention to alter the way him and his family thought of themselves. To change one’s own name can alter the way a person thinks of themselves; changing a child’s name upon liberation is akin to changing their destiny. Therefore, it was critically important for George to do this for his family upon free soil to sow the seeds of liberation in their minds, hearts, and futures.
The process of naming for African Americans has always been a critical point of contention. On the continent naming ceremonies are culturally ubiquitous. That is, great care is taken to name children well, with intention and hints of foresight. European disruption to that process only amplified the importance of naming. Meaning, though Africans were renamed upon being branded as chattel once in the hands of their European American captors, many Africans kept their own names for the hush harbors, only answering to their slave names when vomited from European lips. As well, when physical freedom was secured another naming process took place, as in the example of the Garnet family. For the Garnets: “Not long after their arrival in New York, George Garnet led the family in a ceremony that was carried out on countless occasions in antebellum American and following emancipation in 1865 – a ‘baptism to liberty.’” Garnet wanted to make it clear to them and to all who they would encounter as free people that they were free person, worthy of respect and dignity.
Though Garnet was more removed from the continent of Africa than Delaney, he was no less cognizant of his cultural identity as an African. From an early age, he recognized and celebrated the diversity of the African communities he lived in New York and New England. Moreover, during this period of history it was not unusual to find African Americans celebrating their African-ness in worship, during ceremonies, and festivals. Garnet was fascinated by these gatherings and deeply influenced by the diversity of African people and the cultural pride expressed despite being prisoners in a hostile land. Stuckey elaborates: “A principal source of his nationalism, it appears, was rooted in that awareness, in the knowledge that he and his family were of African descent.” Having such influences as an African child in antebellum America is no small thing; as well such attention to cultural identity in Black community demonstrates a continuum of cultural knowledge and expression that is critically important in identity development.
Henry Highland carried the memory of his renaming and his father’s attention to cultural history throughout his life as a source of strength that guided and supported him. When he came of age, Henry Highland became deeply involved in preaching the word of God. His ministry began in New York where he taught and engaged in theological study. As a student and budding minister he involved himself in the anti-slavery movement. Garnet grew and eventually was named pastor of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York for a time. While in this position he did well to gain allies and support for his corner of the abolition fight, becoming an important voice in New York City community politics and development. As well, he often spoke throughout New York state and other parts of the North but his ideas were not centered merely on advocacy and political maneuvering, instead he pushed for armed rebellion. Many of his contemporaries felt he was too radical in his approach, but he felt the only way to truly end the cruel institution of chattel slavery was through violence.
Despite his sentiments, the possibility of America’s enslaved population rising up in unison, killing their Masters, and overthrowing the government was not a feasible strategy. He therefore began to consider other alternatives, namely emigration. Emigration for Garnet was an open field. He was not narrowly focus on Africa, but also considered the Caribbean and Mexico as viable alternatives for liberated African people. As Garnet nurtured his idea for African American colonization he became deeply involved with the ACS, the African Civilization Society (not to be confused with the American Colonization Society). Both the African Civilization Society and the American Colonization Society were centered on finding permanent relocation areas for African Americans, the difference was the former was founded by African Americans. In his later life, Garnet traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and Africa searching for a new home for his people. He was not only looking for possible locations that would support an African American exodus, he was also studying the manner in which communities developed. Finding sanctuary for his people was a centering element of his life, it was the true North of his moral and cultural compass.
However, African American emigration was an enormous endeavor, the effort to practically execute this process would be daunting to say the least. Therefore, it is doubtful that it is or has ever been a practically solution to European oppression. But, the energy behind the sentiment and the need to carve out a space for African Americans to be without the weight of white supremacy, is very real. It is what defined Garnet’s life (as well as the lives of his contemporaries). Nevertheless, the practicality of emigration may have not been the point, entirely. The point is: as an oppressed people African Americans have and will continue to look for a “promised land”. Emigration therefore can be put into spiritual terms as: a sentiment of our hopes and dreams as well as a search for or a least a symbol of what is best in ourselves.
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 129.
 W. M. Brewer, "Henry Highland Garnet," The Journal of Negro History 13, no. 1 (January 1928): 36. According to Brewer: “In his personality were reflected the fired and genius of African chieftains who had defied the slave catches and later had rankled in Southern bondage. No disappointment could crush such a spirit as that which Garnet manifest in behalf of his people.”
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 130. He simply gathered his family sat them down and gave each of them new names for this new identity. In the 20th century the process of naming for African American would continue to be an important cultural element. Again, naming is a spiritual process in which African American announced their dreams of freedom and dignity to the world in a variety of ways. African American Muslims, for instance, would make name changing central to their philosophy. The Moors with “Bey” or “El”, the NOI and the “X” and the Nation of Gods and Earth or 5%ers and their god-body monikers like God Shamgod and Charlamane the God demonstrates the push to rename and repurpose oppressed human beings through naming. These are also baptisms of liberty in which people of African descent use the process of naming the shape and mold the destiny of their offspring.
 Ibid., 131.
 Ibid., 131.
 He was also deeply involved in the temperance movement, a religious movement centered on the prohibition of alcohol. This highlights the stern nature of his belief system as a Christian.
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 140-141.
 Ibid. 143.