More News Coverage

The four California State Conventions for Colored Citizens held between 1855 and 1865 relied on news coverage to spread the word about convention activism to multiple publics.  East Coast Black and abolitionist newspapers, in particular, carried correspondence from convention delegates like William Newby that praised the civic energy and "intellectual excellence" of the convention participants.  Several of the California State Conventions also praised white newspapers that reported convention proceedings in a manner they judged to be fair and unbiased.  For more on the relationship between the press and the Colored Conventions, see "Advocate Our Own Cause": Black Newspapers in California  in the section below on Nineteenth-Century Black California Political Organizing.

Mirror of the Times

Excerpt from Thomas Duff's article in the Mirror of the Times, digital version at Center for Research Libraries, accessed 30 April 2016. 

Respectability Politics in Mirror of the Times

In the December 12, 1857 issue of the Black San Francisco newspaper Mirror of the Times, Thomas Duff reflected on the proceedings of the 1857 San Francisco Convention, weighing the relative advantages and disadvantages of respectability politics. Duff had been a delegate and Vice-President in the 1856 Sacramento Convention, and he reiterated many of his views in this article. Duff praised the San Francisco and Sacramento Conventions, comparing them favorably to other Black conventions throughout the country.

Duff stressed continuous, dedicated action in order to attain greater equality and challenge the ban on African American testimony in court. Duff initially questioned the “manliness” and dedication of certain African Americans to fighting for the cause, accusing them of being subservient to powerful whites. In order to challenge the ban on Black testimony, Duff focused on the importance of economic gain and so-called “respectable” professions such as farming, trading, and mechanical pursuits, as opposed to “servile employment.” He also urged the African American community in California to set up more churches with influential preachers, get involved in literary and other intellectual pursuits, and set up schools.

Duff’s argument certainly played into the respectability politics that are evident in the California Black conventions. However, Duff acknowledged the problems and prejudices inherent in this argument; he recognized how “humiliating” such arguments were. He assured readers that he, personally, was not against any of the jobs he criticized. Instead, he pointed out the fallacy of the “dignity of labor” concept that was prevalent in U.S. society. He called the classic, American ideal of rising up through hard work a “pretty theory,” insinuating that laborers—and Black laborers in particular—were looked down upon.  Acquiring wealth, he noted, was the only way to gain power in American society. Thus, Duff advocated for the strategy of increasing Black wealth in order to increase Black rights. (Thomas Duff, “Mr. Editor,” The Mirror of the Times, 12 December, 1857, accessed on-line at Center for Research Libraries)

 

Lila Gyory. Taught by Sharla Fett, History 213, Occidental College, Spring, 2016. 

Reports in the eastern Black press, such as this one from San Francisco, revealed national interest in how Black activists in one location responded to the proposals of other conventions--the 1854 Cleveland Emigration Convention in this case.  Equally important, this article details the political organizing that led to the first California State Colored Convention.

The article reports on two meetings of "the colored citizens," in late 1854 and early 1855, to respond to the emigration resolutions of the Cleveland convention.  Participants in these meetings, reported Peter Anderson of San Francisco, "repudiated" any suggestion of emigration.  However, these San Francisco organizers reported that their region of California alone could not officially vote on another convention's resolutions.  Therefore, they passed further resolutions indicating the intent of African Americans in California to organize a state convention as soon as possible. One resolution noted, "That we agree with the people of Sacramento, as expressed in one of their resolutions, that it is expedient to hold a convention during the present session of the Legislature in this State, and that we will cooperate with the people of Sacramento, Marysville and other available points, to make a general effort for the same forthwith."  Furthermore, they added that if Black citizens in Sacramento and Marysville approved their proposal, communities should "proceed forth with (if the report be favorable) to elect delegates to the said Convention at the time and place to be designated by the State Central Committee when formed." This notice, reported in Frederick Douglass' well-read paper publicized the political intentions of Black Californians.  The concern of the San Francisco meeting for coordination with other California Black communities indicated the collective nature of their political organizing and the organizers' concern for unity. The urgency of holding such a convention while the California legislature was still in session came from a desire to overturn discriminatory laws such as the exclusion of Black testimony in court proceedings.  Overall, this article provides a snapshot of the organizing and planning that led to the first California convention held in Sacramento in November of 1855.

("A Voice From San Francisco," Frederick Douglass' Paper, 16 February 1855”)

Written by Lindsay Drapkin. Taught by Sharla Fett, Hist. 213, Occidental College, Spring 2016.

Convention at Sacramento

"Convention at Sacramento," Liberator, 25 January 1856. From Gale. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. ©2008 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permission.www.cengage.com/permissions.

Word about the Colored Conventions in California spread all the way to the east coast through the connections of Black citizens who moved out west. The Liberator published a letter in January of 1856, two months after the 1855 First State Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of California, from one of the convention attendees. Jeremiah B. Sanderson wrote to W.C. Nell that the the convention was successful. Sanderson mentioned the satisfactory response of certain white newspapers in California that "liberally" covered the Colored Convention. This coverage was wanted by the white community, but also gave the Black citizens a voice in which they could tell the white community exactly what they wanted.

Sanderson reported widespread support for the convention's primary goal, which at this time was to allow the right of testimony of Black citizens in court. The letter also discussed the attendance of representatives from both northern and southern California at the convention, because the right to give testimony in court was an important cause to all of California's African American residents.

Lastly, Sanderson raised the challenge of creating a standardized school system for Black children in California. He explained to Nell that nothing had changed within this area at the convention, but he did note that Black educators had recently been allowed to create a separate school for Black children, a move that Sanderson described as "half a loaf." ("Convention at Sacramento," Liberator, 25 January 1856)

White California newspapers frequently covered the conventions between 1855 and 1857, including accounts of convention proceedings and statistics. The Sacramento Daily Union frequently published California Black convention minutes verbatim. This allowed white audiences to understand the goings on of the conventions and African Americans’ concerns for their own people. It was very important to the delegates that a positive and respectful account of the conventions be published in as many newspapers as possible so that their ideas would spread throughout their own community, as well as white communities too. An 1855 article in the Sacramento Daily Union published “the statistics of colored people in the state” of California. It showed the total amount of wealth controlled by African Americans in California as well as the exact total Black population. A prominent topic of the California conventions during this time period was the fight to repeal the California state law that made it illegal for African Americans to testify in a court of law if the case at hand regarded a white person. In a letter to the Editor of the Sacramento Daily Union, Burke expressed his support of their efforts to abolish this law. He stated, “We wish the men composing this Convention a hearty God speed.” Some white people were supportive and wanted their message to be conveyed to the rest of the white population that laws against African Americans were unjust. This was not the most popular sentiment, however. White newspapers did not always publish supportive articles regarding the Black Conventions. However, when they explicitly reported the Convention minutes their message was being diffused which was ultimately a convention goal. (Burke Letter to Editor, Sacramento Daily Union, 10 December 1856; 1855 Convention Minutes published in the Sacramento Daily Union. "Proceedings of the Colored Convention," Sacramento Daily Union, 22 November 1855; "Proceedings of the Colored Convention," Sacramento Daily Union, 23 November 1855.)

Written by Sydney Hemmendinger. Taught by Sharla Fett, History 213, Occidental College, Spring 2016.

<em>Frederick Douglass' Paper</em>, "A Voice From San Francisco," February 16, 1855

"A Voice from San Francisco," in Frederick Douglass' Paper. Accessible Archives. African American Newspapers: The 19th Century. Reproduced by permission. www.accessible-archives.com/

Letter to The Editor of The Sacramento Daily Union

Burke, Sacramento Daily Union, December 19, 1856. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, <http://cdnc.ucr.edu>

White California newspapers frequently covered the conventions between 1855 and 1857, including accounts of convention proceedings and statistics. The Sacramento Daily Union frequently published California Black convention minutes verbatim. This allowed white audiences to understand the goings on of the conventions and African Americans’ concerns for their own people. It was very important to the delegates that a positive and respectful account of the conventions be published in as many newspapers as possible so that their ideas would spread throughout their own community, as well as white communities too. An 1855 article in the Sacramento Daily Union published “the statistics of colored people in the state” of California. It showed the total amount of wealth controlled by African Americans in California as well as the exact total Black population. A prominent topic of the California conventions during this time period was the fight to repeal the California state law that made it illegal for African Americans to testify in a court of law if the case at hand regarded a white person. In a letter to the Editor of the Sacramento Daily Union, Burke expressed his support of their efforts to abolish this law. He stated, “We wish the men composing this Convention a hearty God speed.” Some white people were supportive and wanted their message to be conveyed to the rest of the white population that laws against African Americans were unjust. This was not the most popular sentiment, however. White newspapers did not always publish supportive articles regarding the Black Conventions. However, when they explicitly reported the Convention minutes their message was being diffused which was ultimately a convention goal. (Burke Letter to Editor, Sacramento Daily Union, 10 December 1856; 1855 Convention Minutes published in the Sacramento Daily Union. "Proceedings of the Colored Convention," Sacramento Daily Union, 22 November 1855; "Proceedings of the Colored Convention," Sacramento Daily Union, 23 November 1855.)

Written by Sydney Hemmendinger. Taught by Sharla Fett, History 213, Occidental College, Spring 2016.