John C. Bowers

John C. Bowers (1811-1873), a Philadelphia native, was a tailor and entrepreneur who believed that education and skillful trade were keys to Black success in America.1 He owned a successful second-hand clothing store in Philadelphia and was the founder of The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, or the G.U.O. of O.F., which formed guilds around a variety of trades.2 Bowers was married to Mary C. Collins in 1835. It is unknown if they had children. Both were members of the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.3

Bowers did not have a large speaking role in the 1855 Convention. He was, however, a permanent officer of the convention. His major contribution and platform for the convention was in education for trades and Black self-reliance. He was a tailor by trade in Philadelphia;4 however, he turned his apprenticeship into a profitable business. Bowers had achieved the vision laid out by the commentary in the convention minutes: He took the education of his trade and applied it to accumulate wealth. Bowers took his entrepreneurial spirit a step further by founding The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, of which he was “Grand Master” from 1870-1871. Through this organization Blacks could practice trade, communicate, and form networking connections. These were all views Bowers held that would elevate the position of Blacks in America. Because of this dedication to racial uplift on home soil, it is not surprising that Bowers, like many of his fellow delegates, was staunchly against emigration. He voted against the admittance of Mary Ann Shadd Cary who famously spoke and wrote in favor of emigrating to Canada. 

Bowers' stance on emigration never changed. He later began attending anti-colonization meetings around the East Coast and wrote speeches denouncing emigration and the movement of Blacks to places such as Africa. He believed that all African Americans should stay in the United States, and he firmly held that the Union would one day abolish slavery. Bowers was known as a man who dedicated his life to a brighter future for the next generation of African Americans. He had high hopes for Black society and expressed it through his commitment and innovation that left a lasting mark in African American history.