- A Brief Introduction to the Movement
- To Stay or To Go?: The National Emigration Convention of 1854
- The 1853 Manual Labor College Initiative
- Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
- Mobility, Migration, and the 1855 Philadelphia National Convention
- Henry Highland Garnet's "Address"
- What Did They Eat? Where Did They Stay?
- Black Wealth and the 1843 Convention
- Black Women's Economic Power
- The First National Convention
- The "Conventions" of the Conventions: Political Rituals
- A National Press? The 1847 National Convention and the North Star
- Equality Before the Law: California Black Convention Activism, 1855-65
- Conflict on the Ohio: The 1858 Convention in Cincinnati
- The Post-Bellum Conventions Movement and the Emigration Debate
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From the Stage
William Watkins lectured extensively during the first half of 1855. He went on a tour of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Wyoming counties in New York State during February and March, usually giving at least one lecture a day. A proposed speaking tour with Frederick Douglass of Orleans and Niagara counties, also in New York State, was planned for May but moved to August due to a lack of preparations. Most of Watkins’ lectures were on the subject of slavery or the anti-slavery movement, rather than emigration or education. Watkins served as Assistant Editor of Frederick Douglass’ Paper and wrote many pieces for the paper, including his notes from the road during his speaking tours. The correspondence he wrote for the newspaper during his travels includes descriptions of the uncertainty of antebellum travel and the challenges facing Black travelers, as well as information about the families and clergymen with whom he stayed or visited. Watkins did not hold many leadership positions at the conventions he attended, but was nominated and approved by the 1855 State Convention in Troy as a Lecturer for certain counties of New York State.
Rosalie Hooper, English 641, Spring 2016. Taught by Professor P. Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware.
William Watkins was born in 1826 in Baltimore, Maryland, to free African American parents, William and Henrietta Watkins.1 Watkins lived in a household of nine family members including his cousin, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. His father started his own school called William Watkins’ Academy, which “enrolled approximately fifty Black boys and girls annually and remained open for more than two decades.”2 As a young man, Watkins began to get involved in the Underground Railroad and the civil rights efforts once he moved to Boston in 1849. There, Watkins became involved with the Garrisonians during the early 1850s. In 1852, Watkins, along with Robert Morris, presented themselves to the Massachusetts Legislature to see a “charter to form an African American militia company in Boston.”3 William Cooper Nell wrote about the petition and felt that “Success will be certain, and this achieved, all other rights will be added thereto.”4 However, the Massachusetts Legislature did not follow through with any action.
Watkins was proponent of emigration and followed his father to Toronto sometime in 1852 or 1851.5 He moved to Rochester, New York, to work as an associate editor for Frederick Douglass’ Paper in 1853. William Watkins then joined the Haitian immigration movement, working as an agent for James Redpath’s Haytian Emigration Bureau in Canada west. William Watkin’s father greatly admired the Haitian Revolution and most likely influenced his son. Watkins returned to Boston after the Haytian Emigration Bureau ended to study law. He was one of the first Blacks admitted to the legal profession in the US, as he became a lawyer in 1865.
Moving around New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts earned William Watkins “a reputation as a tireless, articulate, and persuasive antislavery speaker.” He wanted immediate abolitionism, a Black militia, and integrated public schools in the city. When he joined with Frederick Douglass, he participated more in women’s rights and Colored Conventions. He advised northern Blacks to become more militant in defense of their civil rights. On February 24, 1853, Watkins delivered his “Our Rights as Men” speech before a Boston legislative committee requesting to form an independent militia of Black citizens (Link to speech). Watkins also chastised white abolitionists in his lectures for their reluctance to treat Blacks as equals.6
Submitted by Khaliq Gatson, English 110, Taught by James Casey, University of Delaware.
Edited and Revised by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware.
 Mott, Lucretia et al. Selected Letters of Lucretia Coffin Mott. (U of Illinois P, 2002).
 Hilary J. Moss. Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010), 115.
 Christian Samilto. Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship During the Civil War Era. (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2009). 23
 William Cooper Nell, Dorothy Porter Wesley, and Constance Porter Uzelac. William Cooper Nell: Nineteenth-Century American Abolitionist, Historian, Integrationist. (Baltimore: Black Classic P, 2002), 329.
 Milton C. Sernett. 319
 Michael G. Lacy and Kent A. Ono. Critical Rhetorics of Race. (New York: New York UP, 2011),144.