Garnet was born enslaved on December 23, 1815 in New Market, Maryland. In 1824, Garnet’s family escaped to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They subsequently moved to New York City where from 1826 to 1833 Garnet attended the African Free School and the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth.
Garnet went on to graduate with honors in 1839 from the Oneida Theological Institute of Whitesboro. He later joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and frequently spoke at abolitionist conferences. He delivered one of his most famous speeches, “Call to Rebellion,” in August, 1843 to the National Negro Convention. In that speech, he called for the enslaved to act for themselves to achieve total emancipation.
By 1849, Garnet began to support emigration of blacks to Mexico, Liberia, or the West Indies and he founded the African Civilization Society. On February 12, 1865, he became the first black minister to preach to the United States House of Representatives when he spoke about the end of slavery. After the Civil War, Garnet was appointed president of Avery College in 1868 and in 1881 he was appointed U.S. Minister to Liberia.
The Henry Highland Garnet School for Success in Harlem, New York and the HHG Elementary School in Chestertown, Maryland are named in his honor. His biographies include “Henry Highland Garnet: A Voice of Black Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century” (1977) and “Rise Now and Fly to Arms: The Life of Henry Highland Garnet” (1995).