New York African Free Schools and Their Convention Legacies
George Allen’s Address
George Allen’s essay demonstrated that while Back children’s voices were used for political effect by the abolitionist movement, these children simultaneously became rhetoricians and authors with a national audience. It is clear that schoolmaster Charles Andrews and the New York Manumission Society encouraged Allen to compose this essay to prove that African Americans were educable, and to support the goals of the abolitionist movement. The publication of this address also resulted in the political voice of a Black child printed on the front page of an African American owned-and-operated newspaper and read at a convention for abolitionists. This publication was an early example of how education fostered Black political writing.
The content of Allen’s essay, which included both a description of his education at the NYAFS and a call toward abolition, established a clear relationship between abolition movements and the education of the African American population. In this rhetorically savvy address, Allen demonstrated how his education had prepared him for roles as a delegate for his community and a citizen of the United States. In the penultimate paragraph of his essay, Allen moved from the success of the examinations at the NYAFS #2 to his claim that the Declaration of the United States advocated for the abolition of slavery. As such, Allen’s politics stood as another kind of print performance, one that called on its audience to witness the political consciousness of Black children and the rhetoric of this political consciousness as enabled by education.
Read George R. Allen’s address below.
To the American Convention for promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and improving the condition of the African Race.
When I consider that I have the honor of addressing so large an assembly of distinguished gentlemen of this enlightened country, and that I am only a poor little descendant of Africa, I am struck with fear, humility, and awe.
In the first place, I return thanks to that Supreme Being, who has put it into your hearts to advocate the cause of our injured race, and to promote their emancipation from slavery.
What sound can be more delightful to the ear of a slave, than the expression, “The Laws have made you free?” This is the happy case with us in the state of New-York. Liberty is an invaluable blessing to us; and we often feel compassion for the thousands of our brethren in the South, who are groaning under the chains of bondage, while we are enjoying the benefits of freedom, and one of the most important of these, I conceive to be education.
I have the happiness to belong to a school, which was instituted by the Manumission Society of this city, about forty years ago. There are about 700 scholars, male and female, belonging to this Institution: and although I am but twelve years old, I have made some progress in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, English grammar, navigation, and astronomy.
The School has frequently been visited by gentlemen from the South, and other parts of the country ; and I and several of my schoolmates have been called up and examined by them upon the several branches that we were acquainted with, and they have always expressed themselves highly gratified with our performances. I trust the time is not far distant, when the blessings that we enjoy, shall be the happy portion of all our colored brethren, and then the language in the following lines will have their full weight : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights ; among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ; and that to secure these rights, governments were instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
That you may prosper in your arduous but glorious undertaking, and that all your labors may be crowned with success, you have, gentlemen, the wishes of myself and fellow schoolmates in the New-York African Free School.
George R. Allen.
New York, October 21, 1828
Researched, transcribed, and written by Amy Fehr. Edited by Simone Austin
Andrews, Charles C. The History of the New-York African Free-Schools. New York, 1830. Hathitrust, Link.