New York African Free Schools and Their Convention Legacies


This exhibit is about the education debates in the Colored Conventions told through the story of The New York African Free Schools, a remarkable institution attended by several prominent thinkers, including Henry Highland Garnet, James McCune Smith, Thomas Downing, Samuel Ringgold Ward, Charles Reason, and others. The questions that animated many Colored Conventions—how to prepare for and inhabit citizenship, how to best dissipate white prejudice, and how to envision a future—were introduced to many delegates during their days as schoolchildren. This was a school created by the New York Manumission Society, whose members included Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and other luminaries. By placing the work of schoolchildren in conversation with the work of accomplished activists, this exhibit illuminates just how much of the political activism of the Colored Conventions movement took place offstage.

Credits and Citations

Curators: Alyssa Amaral, Amy Fehr, Amanda M. Greenwell, Daniel J. Pfeiffer, Kaylee Jangula Mootz, and Mariel Smith. Taught by Anna Mae Duane, University of Connecticut, Fall 2016.

Edited by The Colored Conventions Project Exhibits Team: Sarah Patterson, Samantha de Vera, Simone Austin, and Kelli Coles.

The Colored Conventions Project proudly partners with national and local teaching partners and student contributors to bring the buried history of nineteenth-century Black political organizing to digital life.

Special thanks to Gale®, part of Cengage Learning, and Accessible Archives, for granting permission to host digital images of newspapers in its databases.