Led by his father George Garnett, Henry Highland Garnett escaped from Maryland
slavery in 1825 to New York. Henry attended the New York African Free school.
Among his classmates were Alexander Crummell, Ira Aldridge and Thomas Ringgold
Ward. His goal was to continue his education in New Hampshire but a group
of whites decided to eliminate the school for educating blacks and dragged
the building into the swamp. Under his leadership, Garnett and the other
black students (including Alexander Crummell) prepared for an attempt on
their lives which would come one night before they could leave town. They
successfully defended themselves against the nighttime attack.
Garnett's ideas about black liberation came to a national audience. He was convinced that in spite of the admirable efforts of the white abolitionist, that the battle for black liberation belonged in the hands of blacks. Garnett would say that, "They are our allies - Ours is the battle." He took revolutionary stands about slavery. Inspired by David Walker, he wrote to slaves: "you had better all die - die immediately than live lives as slaves and entail wretchedness upon your posterity. . . Where is the blood of your fathers? Has it run out of your veins? . . . Awake, awake, millions of voices are calling you. Your dead fathers speak to you from their graves."
Garnett traveled to England to try to encourage a worldwide boycott of cotton. He knew that if the market for cotton collapses, slavery would not survive. Garnett would live his life with many ideas that opposed those of Frederick Douglass. Eventually however, his ideas about liberation, politics and economics would be embraced by many black leaders of his day.