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"Departure of colored emigrants for Liberia; from The Illustrated American, March 21, 1896." New York Public Library Digital Collections.Exhibits

The Colored Conventions Project's digital exhibits draw upon its collections to complement and extend what public audiences know about the cultural histories and materials connected to Black organizing in the nineteenth century. For more information, view supplemental lists of Maps and Tables.

A Brief Introduction to the Colored Conventions Movement, 1830-1890s

New to the rich history of the Colored Conventions movement? Read a brief introduction that complements the following exhibits. What events led to the first Colored Convention? What were the prominient topics of debate? How are Black women connected to the movement? Learn more about the big picture.


FEATURED! To Stay or to Go?: The National Emigration Convention of 1854

Shall we stay, or shall we leave? Through the lens of well-known to little-known Black periodicals, this exhibit unpacks the ways news outlets engaged with emigration debates and ideals while articulating aspects of Black lived experiences in America and abroad. Black newspapers furthered the reach of Colored Conventions among public readers. They especially offered platforms for continued discussion and activism beyond the 1854 National Emigration Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio. From Frederick Douglass' editorial roles to convention delegates' initiatives to support upstate New York Black communties and the paper byproducts of such significant convention initiatives, this exhibit collects striking artifacts of one the most talked about eras in Black 19th-century newspaper production.


FEATURED! The Manual Labor College Initiative and the 1853 Rochester Convention

Discussions about African American education dominated national Colored Conventions in the pre-Civil War era. African American activists believed that basic and advanced schooling would bring about social, political, and racial equality. Yet these schools often only targeted African American men. Breaking with this trend at the 1853 National Colored Convention in Rochester, a plan was introduced for a manual labor school that served African American men and women. Discover the ways Black leaders pivoted from ignoring African American women’s access to higher education to advocating greater acceptance of women’s activism and co-educational models. The exhibit draws from scholar Kabria Baumgartner's work and a stunning collection of historical artifacts.


Bishop Henry McNeal Turner: Visionary, Preacher, Prophet

By the time he organized a national Colored Convention in 1893, Henry McNeal Turner was a highly respected leader in the African American community, having proven himself as an orator, preacher, writer, activist, and consummate professional. Still, secular histories continue to neglect his intellectual impact on key emigration and reparation debates among Black leaders at the end of the century. Turner’s commitment to the work and value of Black-led activism manifested in a variety of venues that include political conventions and the Black press. Building on the work of scholar, Andre Johnson and featuring key excerpts from the AME Church's print organ, The Christian Recorder, this exhibit explores the social and political influence for which Bishop Turner became best known.


Mobility, Migration, and the 1855 Philadelphia National Convention

Travel in 1855 required a great deal of time, money, and effort, but the year’s national Colored Convention in Philadelphia attracted over 120 Black men and women delegates from across the country. Two stand-out moments at the convention consumed news outlets: the controversy surrounding Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s delegacy and George T. Downing’s letter-burning stand against colonization schemes. Both events take place in the midst of heightened debates about emigration and acute violence targeted at Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia and beyond. This exhibit features lecture stops and the messages itinerant intellectuals espoused, particularly those connected to the Philadelphian delegation. Where do these public speakers go and what do they say while there? From convention celebrities to media outlets and lecture circuits, explore the centrality of migration and information exchange to community organizers.


Henry Highland Garnet’s “Address to the Slaves”

From an 1843 fiery speech to an 1964 review in Ebony Magazine, Henry Highland Garnet’s “An Address to the Slaves of the United States” has drawn a range of support and criticism while also shaping the ways in which antebellum Colored Conventions have been remembered. Showcased as a living document in this exhibit, Garnet’s original address was an oration that developed into a number of print iterations that propelled diverse reader reception. This exhibit addresses an issue with the modern-day memory of Henry Highland Garnet’s “An Address to the Slaves of the United States” through the framework of tensions that exist between print and oral performance.


What Did They Eat? Where Did They Stay?: Black Boardinghouses and the Colored Conventions Movement

This exhibit offers greater exposure to spaces and forms of political activism connected to Colored Conventions by considering a broader spectrum of women’s work within the home. A visual partner to Psyche Williams-Forson’s essay, “What Did They Eat? Where Did They Stay?,” this exhibit features menus, interior settings and biographical reviews of the people and places that bring attention to Black women’s political engagement in convention cultures.


Black Wealth and the 1843 National Colored Convention

The delegation of the 1843 National Colored Convention believed that Black people's entrepreneurial pursuits, occupations and personal wealth reinforced their place within American society. But, the 1843 convention is best known for a speech given by the Black reverend and activist, Henry Highland Garnet called "Address to the Slaves of the United States" and the heated debates about slave insurrection that ensued. This exhibit offers readers greater exposure to the narratives, economic dispositions and cultural materials connected to the 1843 convention, including Black women's often unrecognized contributions.


Black Women’s Economic Power and the 1830s Colored Conventions in Philadelphia

In what ways did Black women’s early nineteenth-century economic power increase Colored Convention delegates’ social mobility? This exhibit highlights the contributions of local boarding house hosts and hostesses who provided comfortable spaces for delegates of 1830s conventions and helped to transform their communities into hubs for activism. Articulating the ways boardinghouses served as sites of Black intellectual production, this exhibit also features interactive maps that visualize Black women’s participation in convention activities.


The First National Convention: The Meeting That Launched a Movement

The inaugural 1830 National Colored Convention eludes simple categorization. Why is it so widely accepted by scholars and organizations as the foundational meeting for a movement that would last for seven decades? This exhibit tackles questions about the origins of the Colored Conventions movement by examining three important differences between the 1830 convention and the other national conventions that took place in Philadelphia between 1831 and 1835.


The “Conventions” of the Conventions: Political Rituals and Traditions

From rules of conduct to women’s roles in convention procedure, this exhibit illustrates the ways "embodied rhetorics" reflect Black delegates’ performance of citizenship. At focus are the rituals of Colored Conventions—the carefully crafted actions delegates and audience members perennially repeated. Tracing the "conventions" of conventions, it examines political rituals across decades, both before and after the Civil War, in order to establish the ways in which convention procedures developed. More broadly, this exhibit explores the question of why political rituals became established, and immensely popular, traditions among delegations.

A National Press?: The 1847 National Convention and the North Star

Four years after tensely debating in the 1843 Buffalo Colored Convention, Henry Highland Garnet and Frederick Douglass again took opposing stances in the 1847 National Convention. This exhibit looks at the debates and discussions surrounding the adoption of a National Printing Press. While many delegates supported it, others, including Douglass, questioned how they might sustain such press. Sections of this exhibit also explores news coverage surrounding the 1847 convention as well as the issue of voting rights as tied to land ownership. 

Equality Before the Law: California Black Convention Activism, 1855–1865

"Equality Before the Law" explores the activist efforts of Black Californians who confronted laws and policies that targeted African Americans. This exhibit contextualizes the Colored Conventions held in California, showing critical events that had direct impact on African Americans' quest for civil rights in the state. This exhibit also centers the lives of Black Californians who made lasting contributions to the movement.  

NEW! Conflict on the Ohio: The 1858 Convention in Cincinnati

Ohio was home to many well-seasoned activist men and women who defied the Fugitive Slave Act. A crucial stopover for fugitives, Cincinnati and other outlying cities became places of refuge, as Black residents mobilized to aid escaping enslaved men and women. This exhibit delves into the lives and contributions of Black Ohioans and the Convention of the Colored Men of Ohio in 1858. Attendees such as Charles H. Langston, the grandfather of poet Langston Hughes, willingly broke the Fugitive Slave Law and faced legal repercussions as a result. The 1858 convention is especially notable for its inclusion of women. Frances Ellen Watkins [Harper] was among the many Black women who animated this historic gathering.   

The Postbellum Southern Conventions Movement and the Emigration Debate 

The end of the Civil War brought new hope and opportunities for social and political organizing into the lives of Black southerners. Charting Colored Conventions from just after the Civil War in 1865 to the "Departure of colored emigrants for Liberia; from The Illustrated American, March 21, 1896." New York Public Library Digital Collections.Exoduster Movement in 1879, this exhibit uncovers the patterns and trends of postbellum southern Colored Conventions. The minutes of southern Colored Conventions are crucial to understanding Reconstruction, Black political and educational efforts in the late nineteenth-century, the organizational roots of the Niagara movement (which led to the NAACP), Marcus Garvey's Black nationalism, and how "internal emigration" or "intra-national emigration" was linked to the Great Migration. 



For more information, write to

Exhibit Committee Co-Chairs:

Sarah Patterson and Samantha Q. de Vera