But One Race

The Life of Robert Purvis

By Margaret Hope Bacon

Subjects: African American Studies, Biography, American History
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9780791470084, 293 pages, January 2010
Hardcover : 9780791470077, 293 pages, January 2007

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Table of contents

Ancestral Chart of the Purvis Family
1. Of Southern Birth
2. The City of Brotherly Love
3. Present at the Beginning
4. World Traveler
5. "We are Not Intruders Here"
6. To Aid the Fleeing Slave
7. A Time of Loss
8. Gentleman Farmer
9. "This Wicked Law"
10. "Are We Not Men?"
11. "A Proud Day for the Colored Man"
12. "Equality of Rights for All"
13. The Freedmen's Savings Bank
14. "We are To the Manner Born"
15. "His Magnificent Record"

Biography of famous black abolitionist and voting rights advocate, Robert Purvis.


Born in South Carolina to a wealthy white father and mixed race mother, Robert Purvis (1810–1898) was one of the nineteenth century's leading black abolitionists and orators. In this first biography of Purvis, Margaret Hope Bacon uses his eloquent and often fierce speeches to provide a glimpse into the life of a passionate and distinguished man, intimately involved with a wide range of major reform movements, including abolition, civil rights, Underground Railroad activism, women's rights, Irish Home Rule, Native American rights, and prison reform. Citing his role in developing the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee, an all black organization that helped escaped slaves secure passage to the North, the New York Times described Purvis at the time of his death as the president of the Underground Railroad. Voicing his opposition to a decision by the state of Pennsylvania to disenfranchise black voters in 1838, Purvis declared "there is but one race, the human race. " But One Race is the dramatic story of one of the most important figures of his time.

Margaret Hope Bacon is an independent scholar and the author of many books, including Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott and Abby Hopper Gibbons: Prison Reformer and Social Activist, also published by SUNY Press.


"…this book does well to open a new line of approach for Quaker scholars of social justice movements and scholars of antislavery alike. " — Quaker Studies

"…Bacon's biography adds to our limited knowledge of nineteenth-century northern black leaders who devoted their lives to pressuring white Americans to live up to their stated ideals. One hopes that this study will spur historians to investigate the lives of other black activists who have been either marginalized or ignored in the historiography of the period. " — The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"…Margaret Hope Bacon's wonderful biography of Robert Purvis is most welcome … With this book, Purvis is no longer one of abolition's 'unsung heroes. '" — The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Bacon's concise yet thorough treatment of her subject restores Purvis to his rightful place as one of the most interesting and complex figures of the era … Highly recommended. " — CHOICE

"In this long-overdue biography of Robert Purvis, Margaret Hope Bacon has given us back one of the towering figures in the history of civil rights. Bacon has given us not only the political man—whose name should be as familiar to us as that of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman—but also a compelling, full-round portrait of a deeply complex and appealing human being, whose natural optimism was sorely tested by the early loss of several children to disease, and by white America's repeated betrayal of his abiding faith in the nation's promise of freedom and equality. " — Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America

"Margaret Bacon has worked tirelessly in her effort to rescue Robert Purvis from obscurity and present him to the modern reader as a man who was both of his time and ahead of it in his demands for an equality that knew no lines of race or sex. " — Julie Winch, author of A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten

"Robert Purvis has long deserved a good biography. Bacon's penetrating study illuminates both Purvis's many accomplishments in a complicated and hostile world and his often prickly personality. " — Winthrop D. Jordan, University of Mississippi

"Bacon is effective in setting the context for Purvis's activities—both in terms of public and family events, and in demonstrating the complex nature of black abolitionism. She has helped to reclaim Purvis's rightful place in American history. " — Roy E. Finkenbine, Director, Black Abolitionist Archives, University of Detroit Mercy