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

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Prospectus for an anti-slavery paper. To be entitled North Star." The New York Public Library Digital Collections.


The 1847 National Convention of Colored People, held in Troy, New York, was an eclectic convention. The issues brought before attendees ranged from the establishment of a national press, commerce with Jamaica, abolition of slavery, Black colleges and agriculture. Boston's William C. Nell, a reporter as well as a delegate to the convention, summed up the convention's events in this way:

Intelligent men there assembled to enquire what shall be done to extirpate Slavery from the land and elevate the character of its oppressed. Here mind grappled with mind, plans were proposed and their merits discussed; and while discouragements, reported from any locality, awakened sympathy in kindred hearts, the least dawn of success inspired all with a new zeal; pledging their every effort to hasten the day of emancipation. [1]

Nell was one of sixty-six convention delegates. The roll included James McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, and Willis Hodges, to name a few. Also in attendance was Frederick Douglass. He was an active and vocal delegate, and his name appears often in the minutes, as he expressed strong opinions about nearly every topic addressed at the Convention.

At the time of his attendance, Douglass was at the final stages of establishing his own paper, North Star. Considering Douglass's active role at the convention, it is not surprising that the convention and its concerns were featured prominently in the North Star. In fact, the inaugural issue of the North Star in December of 1847 contained a lengthy front-page article on the 1847 National Colored Convention, establishing a conversation between Douglass’s papers and the conventions that would follow.


This exhibit takes an up-close look at the intersection of the 1847 National Convention of Colored People and the North Star. It is a snapshot of the lasting impact Colored Conventions and the Black press had on one another. Included in this exhibit are the following topics:

What about Other Papers?

While the focus here is the North Star, it is important to remember that other Black newspapers were being published in 1847, and those and subsequent papers also took an interest in conventions. The Ram’s Horn, the National Watchman, and the Elevator, for example, were all actively involved in debating the issues important to African American communities.

Why only examine the North Star, then? Because of Frederick Douglass’s fame and the paper's longevity, his paper was archived more carefully than most. Copies have survived, while the full run of many other Black papers of the period are yet to be recovered. Thankfully, we can examine the North Star for a glimpse into Black press of the day, but we hope that continued archival research will lead to the full recovery of other Black newspapers that will enrich our understanding. For more on this topic, see Recovering Black Print.

Credits and Citations

Melanie Berry; Christy Hutcheson; Eli Jones; Morgan Shaffer. Taught by: Benjamin Fagan, Auburn University, Fall, 2016.

Edited by Colored Convention team members Samantha de Vera, Gabrielle Foreman and Sarah Patterson.


[1] Nell, W.C. “The Colored Convention.” North Star 3 Dec. 1847.