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RDR BOOK REVIEW: 'Elijah Lovejoy's Fight For Freedom' by Jennifer Phillips

'Elijah Lovejoy's Fight For Freedom' by Jennifer Phillips (2009)
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By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: December 18, 2009

BOOK REVIEW:  Elijah Lovejoy’s Fight For Freedom by Jennifer Phillips (2009)

On a recent trip to St. Louis, Mo. to visit family, I had the chance to visit the nearby city of Alton, Ill. and the amazing memorial dedicated in the late 19th century to Elijah Parish Lovejoy, the Maine native and outspoken newspaperman and abolitionist who was murdered by a mob in Alton in 1837.

Lovejoy’s story is a fascinating one and after visiting the monument, which I wrote about here at Red Dirt Report, and reading more about him, I sought out literature about his life.

One of the books I found, Elijah Lovejoy’s Fight For Freedom, written by Jennifer Phillips, an Alton native now living in Washington state, was published this year by Nose In a Book Publishing and comes in at a decidedly short 50-or-so pages.

Clearly, the book is aimed at younger readers. Children need to learn more about American patriots and lovers of freedom like Elijah P. Lovejoy (1802-1837).

Phillips does her homework. The style is somewhat simplistic, with short sentences and such. For instance, here Phillips describes Lovejoy in the prologue: “Elijah was already a newspaper editor. Now he became a minister. Next, he boldly used his newspaper to demand an end to slavery. This was very rare, and very dangerous.

Phillips then goes chapter-by-chapter describing Lovejoy and his decision to leave Maine and go to the “pioneer west,” a decision which led him to the bustling frontier city of St. Louis, Mo. and ultimately to the free state of Illinois and the Mississippi River town of Alton. It was here that Lovejoy was able to share his views on the evils of slavery with his newspaper the Alton Observer, views which struck the frontier folk as unacceptable, even though Illinois was a free state.

As Phillips writes, “(Lovejoy) began organizing a state anti-slavery society. He gathered petition signatures challenging Illinois residents to show their ‘spirit of freedom’ and not a ‘dark spirit of slavery.’” Phillips continues, writing, “Many Alton citizens felt betrayed. They worried that Elijah was turning their city into a gathering place for abolitionists. They did not want radical thinking invading their way of life and hurting their ability to make a decent living.”

The reader gets a real sense of what Lovejoy was up against in 1837, over two decades before the War Between the States would lead to the end of slavery in America. Lovejoy, as Phillips writes, was determined to use his press – three of which were destroyed by mobs and the fourth destroyed after he was murdered by a similar angry mob in 1837 – to share his abolitionist views.

Writes Phillips: “Some people called Elijah a martyr in honor of his sacrifices. They cried for a  change in the country’s ways. Others blamed Elijah. They hoped his ideas were silenced forever.”

What was interesting was that Phillips not only wrote about Lovejoy’s legacy, she wrote about his friend Edward Beecher and his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe who later wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We find out what happens to Lovejoy’s wife, mother, brothers and friends, many of whom carried on his abolitionist fervor.

The book is peppered with photos and illustrations and while I detected a few editing mistakes, they aren't glaring. In fact, it is a great little book for children and adults alike, even though it is geared towards younger readers. For those interested in the fascinating life of Elijah P. Lovejoy, Jennifer Phillips’ Elijah Lovejoy’s Fight For Freedom is a great place to start.

Copyright 2009 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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