The Colored Conventions Movement: Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century 

Edited Collection by Gabrielle Foreman, Jim Casey, and Sarah Patterson • Introduction by P. Gabrielle Foreman
Forthcoming from UNC Press

This volume of essays is the first to focus on the Colored Conventions movement, the nineteenth century’s longest campaign for Black civil rights. Well before the founding of the NAACP and other twentieth-century pillars of the civil rights movement, tens of thousands of Black leaders organized state and national conventions across North America. Over seven decades, they advocated for social justice and against slavery, protesting state-sanctioned and mob violence while demanding voting, legal, labor, and educational rights. While Black-led activism in this era is often overshadowed by the attention paid to the abolition movement, this collection centers Black activist networks, influence, and institution building. Collectively, these essays highlight the vital role of the Colored Conventions in the lives of thousands of early organizers, including many of the most famous writers, ministers, politicians, and entrepreneurs in the long history of Black activism.

Contributors: Erica L. Ball, Kabria Baumgartner, Daina Ramey Berry, Joan L. Bryant, Jim Casey, Benjamin Fagan, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Eric Gardner, Andre E. Johnson, Cheryl Janifer LaRoche, Sarah Lynn Patterson, Carla L. Peterson, Jean Pfaelzer, Selena R. Sanderfer, Derrick R. Spires, Jermaine Thibodeaux, Psyche Williams-Forson, and Jewon Woo.

Explore accompanying exhibits and historical records at The Colored Conventions Project website:


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Book Details

Approx. 400 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 halftones, 3 tables, notes, index
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5426-3
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5425-6


Table of Contents


How to Use This Book and Its Digital Companions: Approaches to and Afterlives of the Colored Conventions
Jim Casey, P. Gabrielle Foreman, and Sarah Lynn Patterson

PART 1 • Critical Conventions, Methods, and Interventions

Black Organizing, Print Advocacy, and Collective Authorship: The Long History of the Colored Conventions Movement
P. Gabrielle Foreman

A Word Fitly Spoken: Edmonia Highgate, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and the 1864 Syracuse Convention
Eric Gardner

Where Did They Eat? Where Did They Stay? Interpreting Material Culture of Black Women’s Domesticity in the Context of the Colored Conventions
Psyche Williams-Forson • View related exhibitSecond Related Exhibit

Reconstructing James McCune Smith’s Alexandrine Library: The New York State/County and National Colored Conventions (1840-1855)
Carla L. Peterson

PART 2 • Antebellum Debates: Citizenship Practices, Print Culture, and Women’s Activism

Flights of Fancy: Black Print, Collaboration, and Performances in “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America (Rejected by the National Convention, 1843)”
Derrick R. Spires • View related exhibit

Performing Politics, Creating Community: Antebellum Black Conventions as Political Rituals
Erica L. Ball • View related exhibit

Colored Conventions, Moral Reform, and the American Race Problem
Joan L. Bryant

Deleted Name but Indelible Body: Black Women at the Colored Conventions in Antebellum Ohio
Jewon Woo

PART 3 • Out of Abolition’s Shadow: Print, Education, and the Underground Railroad

The Organ of the Whole: Colored Conventions, the Black Press, and the Question of National Authority
Benjamin Fagan • View related exhibitSecond related exhibit Third related exhibit

As the True Guardians of Our Interests: The Ethos of Black Leadership and Demography at Antebellum Colored Conventions
Sarah Lynn PattersonView related exhibit

Gender Politics and the Manual Labor College Initiative at National Colored Conventions in Antebellum America
Kabria BaumgartnerView related exhibitSecond related exhibit

Secrets Well Kept: Colored Conventioneers and Underground Railroad Activism
Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

PART 4 • Locating Conventions: Black Activism’s Wide Reach and Unexpected Places

Social Networks of the Colored Conventions, 1830-1864
Jim Casey

The Emigration Debate and the Southern Colored Conventions Movement
Selena R. Sanderfer • View related exhibit

Further Silence upon Our Part Would Be an Outrage: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the Colored Conventions Movement
Andre E. Johnson • View related exhibit

A Convention of Grumblers! Creating Black Texans and Reproducing Heteropatriarchy
Daina Ramey Berry and Jermaine Thibodeaux

None but Colored Testimony against Him: The California Colored Convention of 1855 and the Origins of the First Civil Rights Movement in California
Jean Pfaelzer View Related Exhibit

The Colored Conventions Project, Douglass Day and the Black Women's Organizing Archive are flagship projects of the Center for Black Digital Research, #DigBlk, at Penn State University.

The Colored Conventions Project appreciates the support of:


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