About the Colored Conventions

Illustration of meeting

National Colored Convention, Nashville, 1876, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 1876. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Over the course of seven decades, tens of thousands of Black men and women from different walks of life traveled to attend meetings publicly advertised as “Colored Conventions.” Held throughout the antebellum period and continuing for 30 years beyond the Civil War, these political gatherings offered opportunities for free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans to organize and strategize for racial justice.

The first Colored Convention was held in 1830 in response to Ohio’s 1829 exclusionary laws and a wave of anti-Black mob violence that had forced two thousand Black residents to flee the state. That first meeting brought Black leaders together to contest widespread discrimination against Black communities. Their gathering activated a movement.

Providing a powerful structure and platform for Black organizing, more than 200 state and national Colored Conventions were held between 1830 and the 1890s. Filling churches, city hall buildings, courthouses, lecture halls, and theaters, the well-attended Colored Conventions illustrate the diversity of cultural life and political thought among Black communities and their leaders. The meetings included the most prominent writers, organizers, church leaders, newspaper editors, educators, and entrepreneurs in the canon of early African American leadership—and tens of thousands more whose names went unrecorded. While most delegates were male, Black women participated through their newspaper work, entrepreneurial activism, political commitments, and especially their presence. They embodied the movement’s core values and challenged traditional beliefs about women’s place in public society.

The Colored Conventions reflect the long history of collective Black mobilization before, during, and long after the end of the Civil War. As empowering hubs of Black political thought and organizing, the Colored Conventions provided space for informed public audiences to develop political plans and community-building projects, celebrate racial unity and protest state violence, and work tirelessly to secure Black people’s civil rights.

Convention Records

View a list of conventions at our Digital Records site.

The Colored Conventions Project

The Colored Conventions Project (CCP) is an interdisciplinary research hub that uses digital tools to bring the buried history of nineteenth-century Black organizing to life. Mirroring the collective nature of the nineteenth-century Colored Conventions, CCP uses innovative, inclusive partnerships to locate, transcribe, and archive the documentary record related to this nearly forgotten history and to curate engaging digital exhibits that highlight its significant events and themes.

The Colored Conventions Project appreciates the support of:

The Colored Conventions Project was launched and cultivated at the University of Delaware from 2012-2020.