Erica Ball, “Citizenship: Virtue and Politics in Antebellum Black Conventions”
This paper will explore the relationship between black conventions and the personal politics embraced by an emerging black middle class in the 1840s and 1850s. Beginning from the premise that convention proceedings must be read as civic rituals and public performances as well as discursive evidence of black political engagement, this paper examines the ways that gender and class-specific conceptions and performances of ideal citizenship shaped the planning, staging and viewing of black conventions before the Civil War.
Focusing primarily on the Proceedings of the State Conventions of New York and Ohio in the 1840s and 1850s (two key regional centers for antislavery activity in the period), the paper will read the behavior of delegates and audience members against antebellum black conduct discourse. It will analyze the ways that participants in black conventions used the space of the convention as a public forum to perform the classical republican and middle-class domestic virtues that African American writers, editors and activists like Samuel Ringgold Ward, Charles B. Ray and Sarah Stanley understood to be essential for free blacks who sought to live “antislavery lives.” It will argue that while displays of oratorical brilliance and debating prowess allowed African American men to showcase their classical and early American republican virtues, conventions also thoroughly relied upon African American women, whose invaluable role as hosts, organizers and observers in the audience infused the events with the emerging middle-class ideals of virtue required for mainstream political legitimacy in the decades before the Civil War. Ultimately, the paper will demonstrate that conventions not only provided crucial spaces for elite and aspiring free blacks to embody their personal politics in a public, explicitly political forum, but that they also enabled antebellum free blacks to reframe the civic rituals of the early republic and antebellum eras for more expansive and radical abolitionist purposes.
Kabria Baumgartner, “’Without Reference to Sex or Complexion’”: The Evolution of African American Higher Education and the Antebellum Black Convention Movement”
The issue of educational access and opportunity for African Americans dominated the black convention movement in the antebellum era. Some African American leaders defined education as a politics of elevation and moral reform, which linked African American intellectual improvement to racial advancement and equality. However, this ideological definition of African American education was androcentric; it focused on establishing schools, academies and colleges primarily for African American men. In fact, African American leaders introduced a proposal to establish a manual labor college for African American male youth at the Philadelphia convention in 1831. Twenty-two years later, in July 1853, African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass discussed opening a manual labor college near Erie, Pennsylvania that welcomed all students, “without reference to sex or complexion.” Needless to say, aside from the focus on manual labor, these two plans were different, especially in regard to the composition of the student body.
This paper examines the evolution of African American higher education by comparing the two plans for a manual labor college. In a twenty-two year period, African American women apparently had become part of this and other educational initiatives. Frederick Douglass even stated that African American women too “needed training in the ‘methods and means of enjoying an independent and honorable livelihood.” Of course Douglass advocated for women’s rights and his daughter’s experiences with school discrimination certainly influenced him, but that is not the whole story; Douglass won support from some African American leaders for his proposal. I argue that the activism of African American women like Mary Shadd, many of whom believed that pursuing knowledge could help to secure freedom, transformed the ideological definition of African American education to be more inclusive and empowering. And African American leaders like Douglass recognized and supported that. This paper also examines what constituted an “independent and honorable livelihood” for African American women. More broadly, it explores the sweeping changes that occurred in the antebellum period, from the expansion of public schools to the continuous assault on African American civil rights. These changes made education a political and powerful pursuit that could help to promote and secure African American freedom at a particularly challenging moment, and this pursuit demanded the inclusion of African American women.
Joan Bryant, “Colored Conventions and the American Race Problem”
The Declaration of Sentiment adopted at the Fourth Annual Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Colour announced delegates’ commitment to reform endeavors “without distinction of caste or complexion.” (31) At the next convention, delegates reportedly voted to eschew the term “colored.” (14- 15) These incidents signal broader challenges to the concept of race that comprised a critical dimension of national and state conventions. This paper analyzes such challenges and explores how they reflect contested interpretations of American reform. It maps their place in a largely overlooked tradition of race resistance that extended through the nineteenth century.
The paper grounds its analysis in the ideas and activity of William Whipper, a native of Columbia, Pennsylvania. He was the only person to serve as a delegate to all six of the initial national colored conventions, and he participated in state and national forums that resumed in 1840s and 1850s. He initiated opposition to race in the conventions. The paper situates him within a broad assortment of reformers who questioned the validity and logic of race constructions. Their perspectives reveal new ways of understanding the meaning and place of race in nineteenth-century colored reform endeavors. It counters the popular assumption that race is a self-evident, trans-historical site of identity for Black Americans that expressed itself most clearly in collective religious and reform endeavors.
Jim Casey, “Conventional and Unconventional Hubs of Nineteenth Century African American History”
On April 2, 1830, when Hezekiah Grice sent out a call for a national convention of African Americans, he heard nothing back. It was not until four months later, in August of 1830, that Grice heard from Richard Allen: “we must take some action immediately, or else these New Yorkers will get ahead of us” (The Anglo-African Magazine October, 1859). The first convention took place in Philadelphia, a mere four weeks later, and included delegates and honorary members from both cities and nine states. The dozen national conventions before the end of the Civil War were unparalleled gatherings of prominent African Americans. Even greater in number, at least four dozen state conventions and a handful of regional conventions followed as far away as California and as late as the 1880s.
This paper argues that our lack of attention to the conventions as a movement leaves us without a clear sense of the distinct communities that emerged across North America throughout the nineteenth century. I will examine the collected minutes of the more than seventy conventions as representations of a complex social network. By using the formal methods of social network analysis, I understand the many lists in convention minutes as representing the emergence of distinct communities of collaboration through co-attendance, correspondence, addresses, and shared voting patterns. Many of these fail to correspond to the conventional explanatory hubs of geography, denomination, or social class. Instead, these network models indicate a special class of what we might call unconventional hubs—brokers of the many communities of the convention movement.
Eric Gardner , “”Eloquently and Feelingly’: Edmonia Highgate and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper at the 1864 Syracuse Convention”
The roster of participants at the October 1864 National Convention of Colored Men at Syracuse, New York, reads like a Who’s Who among Black male activists: Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnet, John S. Rock, George Boyer Vashon, Christian Recorder editor Elisha Weaver . . . the list goes on. The 62-page Proceedings lists no credentialed women delegates—there were none—but does briefly note speeches by Edmonia Highgate, “an accomplished young lady of Syracuse,” on the evening of 5 October and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who, the next evening, “spoke eloquently and feelingly of our hopes and prospects in this country” (15, 25). This paper pieces together bits from press accounts and diverse other sources beyond the brief Proceedings references to more fully explore Highgate and Harper’s participation.
In some ways, the two women seem a study in contrasts: comparatively-unknown but fascinating because of her thinking about American Transcendentalism, Highgate probably garnered an invitation because of local connections; the now almost-canonical Harper, though early in her career, was already a respected national figure in both Black activism and literature. But both Highgate and Harper were thinking actively about the ways women’s voices and efforts could aid (and already had aided) the convention movement, both recognized crucial questions tied to public performances of (Black) identity and citizenship, both had complex senses of the geographies and temporalities surrounding their convention moments, and both understood the complex work of language in convention settings. While this paper performs—and analyzes questions tied to—initial recovery of Highgate and Harper’s appearances, it also makes larger arguments on the uses and limits of convention proceedings for contemporary scholars of literature and history, on the importance of conventions as venues for Black cultural production, and on the roles of free Black women in the Civil War era writ broadly.
Margarita Simon Guillory, “William Cooper Nell and the Politics of Religion in the Colored Conventions Movement”
Local, regional, and national meetings of the Colored Conventions Movement convened in churches; many of these same meetings opened with pray; and resulting resolutions of these gatherings were quite often laced with biblical scripture and imagery. Thus, religion, read Christianity, played a key role in this socio-political movement. This paper argues that this dominant presence of Christianity in the Colored Conventions Movement led to the repression of other non-Christian competing religiosities. Specifically, this work treats William Cooper Nell as a case study in order to examine how individuals simultaneously negotiated non-Christian religious identity and actively participated in the Colored Conventions Movement.
This paper is divided into four sections. The first section explores the variety of ways that religion (again, read Christianity) was integrated into the structural framework of the Colored Conventions Movement. The second section considers the Spiritualist activities of William Cooper Nell. Utilizing letters written by Nell to Amy Post (Rochesterian abolitionist and Spiritualist) housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester, this section looks at the active role that Nell played in the Spiritualist Movement for over twenty years. The third section examines how Nell negotiated this Spiritualist identity in light of his participation in a Christianized Colored Conventions Movement, particularly as seen with his involvement in the Colored Conventions of Western New York. The final section considers at least three implications: recovery of “hidden histories” of African American Spiritualists like William Cooper Nell, recognition of archival material as viable source material, and intersectionality between identity construction, religion, race, and socio-political movements (e.g., Colored Conventions Movement).
Andre Johnson,”All Aboard: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the 1893 National Negro Convention”
In August of 1893, African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church bishop, Henry McNeal Turner, issued a call to convene a black national convention. This in and of itself was not anything out of the ordinary because there had been black national conventions held since 1830. However, two things made this one special. First, it had been four years since the last national African American convention of any kind during that time, many of the rights blacks gained were nullified.
Second, this convention would be special because among the items conveners discussed at these conventions; racism, equality, fair treatment and better accommodations, there would be one more. The delegates were going to discuss the merits of emigration, either Africa or somewhere else. For Bishop Turner the time had come for black Americans seriously to consider moving out of America.
Even though a good number of people attended the convention and received considerable coverage from the black press, the convention, in Turner’s eyes, was a failure. Instead of a radical plan for emigration, the only recommendations that came out of the convention were to establish the National Equal Rights Council, with Turner acting as “chancellor” and to continue to appeal to Congress, governors, and the American people for fair and equal justice.
Drawing on Jacque Ellul’s classic study on both the external and internal characteristics of propaganda, I will attempt critically to assess the propaganda of Turner’s emigration plan . In doing this I will first offer a general biographic sketch of Turner and briefly outline tenants of his emigration plan. Second, I will briefly outline Ellul’s characteristics of propaganda. Finally, by drawing on Ellul’s work, I will attempt to show where Turner’s propaganda achieved its goals and where Turner’s propaganda campaign failed—namely the oppositional counter propaganda campaign offered by other African American leaders who argued that emigration was a foolish proposition.
Monica Lindsay, Poster Abstract
This poster project is an illustration of the research into the life and history of Elizabeth Gloucester; one of the richest African American women of the 19th century. Although women were absent from the convention movement their presence and significance pervade the social and political landscape of the time. This research draws upon African American newspapers, scholarly journals, and census records in order to reclaim the missing history of Elizabeth Gloucester.
Nathan Nikolic, Poster Abstract
Perhaps the most important temptation to avoid in a historical recovery project is the fantasy that we are asymptotically approaching some “complete archive,” to use Leslie Harris’s term. The fact that injustice, violence and oppression of many forms played a large role in 19th century African American life in no way guarantees a crystalized history waiting for academic excavation. Many of the challenges facing the Colored Conventions Project data visualization team are those found throughout the digital humanities, issues of interpretation and methodology in the volatile age of information technology. No archives are complete. All are changing. How can we see this very incompleteness, the not-all of our data, as constitutive of our work? This poster “charts” the evolution of CCP’s exploration and handling of the ever-increasing number of known colored conventions and the delegates who attended them.
A. Nevell Owens, “Conventions, the Idea of Africa and Emigration Debates”
Charles Long states that Africa is a historical reality for black communities in America; it serves as point of reference in the religious, cultural and civic imagination of those black African descended people living in America. Perhaps, Long’s viewpoint was even truer in the Nineteenth Century, an era in which there was much public debate and private angst that fomented outcries about the role of Africa in African American life.
Beginning in the 1830s, primarily as a result of the American Colonization Society’s efforts, Negro Conventions were held to address the plight of black Americans, both free and enslaved. Of major concern to the Convention goers was the possibility of forced or voluntary emigration to Africa. Even after the efforts of the American Colonization Society failed to come to fruition the question of African emigration continued to inform the debate of both National and State Conventions and in the various black publications started in the Nineteenth Century.
Because of the prominence of Africa in black American religious, cultural and civic imagination this paper will explore the complex idea of that continent in the minds of black Americans. This will be done by looking at some of the Convention debates and by looking at one publication, Voice of Mission (Voice), a direct result of the National debate over African emigration and examine the extent to which Africa served as the tensive fulcrum on which these debates hinged. On the one hand, Africa was extolled for its ancient greatness. On the other hand, it was excoriated as a place of abject heathenism and “insalubrious” living conditions. This paper will not explore the validity of the respective arguments for or against African emigration, rather, it look into the idea of Africa in the minds of Convention goers and contributors to the Voice.
Sarah Patterson, “‘Speak Boldly for Your Rights’: Postbellum Colored Education Conventions”
By the 1860s, black teachers and education advocates had begun to design and implement state education conventions and associations to attend to issues concerning black education. Stemming from the colored men’s convention movement of the antebellum era, black education conventions brought together a host of men and women, from prominent intellectuals to the local teachers who had long gone unnoticed despite having been angled toward education-based problem-solving and organizing in black communities. Black educators gathered to establish support systems across experience, to share best practices, and to disseminate ideologies that they believed would shape and transform black educational initiatives in the era of emancipation. The minutes to this education convention movement not only demonstrate the ways the teaching profession elevated the status of black women, but the minutes also capture spirited debates, political philosophies and celebrations of black freedom crucial to black educational achievement in America.
At the 1869 Kentucky Colored Educational Convention, John M. Langston contended that achievement was the best measure of equality. Langston addressed the convention: “…I am here to ask whether with our hair curled, our faces sooty, as they are, our condition, two hundred and forty-five years of slavery, whether we can step out in the liberty of new life by hard work to place ourselves along side of the best men of this country and the best men of the world?” In a prodigious announcement of four measures of equality, Langston hails social equality as a philosophy that enables freemen to ascend to the highest class of social life. This essay analyzes Langston’s measures of equality and, more broadly, the ways state education conventions served as catalysts of Langston’s notion of social equality through gender inclusivity and public celebrations at Ohio, Kentucky and Delaware education conventions between 1861 and 1873.
Carla L. Peterson, “James McCune Smith, Race, and Constitutional Law”
Beginning in 1830 and continuing well into the Reconstruction period, black Americans from northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and mid-western states, came together in national, state, and county Colored Conventions to debate and strategize the best means of achieving social justice, economic well-being and, ultimately, full legal citizenship. One of the primary topics for debate—primary both in the sense of being first and in the sense of importance—was over the nature of the conventions themselves: should they be restricted to colored people or not? I am interested in the ways in which this debate played itself out in the New York state and county conventions of the early 1840s, and how the debate morphed from one of strategy to a more philosophical meditation on definitions and meanings of citizenship.
In 1821, the New York state legislature took upon itself to deny black men the franchise by instituting a voting property qualification of $250. Denied a right they once had, New York’s black leaders came together to organize petitions drive throughout the state and in 1840 called for a state convention to be held in Albany, and the year after a New York county convention. The debates in these conventions initially had to do with strategy. Some leaders argued in favor of colored-only conventions, insisting that black New Yorkers needed to become autonomous and self-reliant, and set their own agenda and course of action. White abolitionists argued against separate conventions as did other black leaders. Basing his argument on expediency, John Peterson, for example, insisted that since the majority of New York State’s population was white and hostile to black political rights, blacks as a minority and a “distinct people” had no hope of “influencing the said white majority, neither by interest, fear, nor by superior intellectual power.”
I am more interested in parsing the philosophical position taken by black leader, James McCune Smith, who argued against separate conventions; distinguishing people on the basis of skin color, he insisted, was a “virtual acknowledgment that there are rights peculiar to the color of a man’s skin, thus fostering prejudice against complexion.” Directly addressing the issue of the property qualification imposed against black men, Smith then proceeded to argue that it was unconstitutional not because it was based on racial discrimination, but because it violated the principle of no taxation without representation, which had nothing to do with race. This was not a case of racially discriminatory legislation, but of unconstitutional law. In my paper, I would like to deepen our understanding of Colored Convention debates by moving beyond issues of strategy to consideration of philosophical positions advanced by men like James McCune Smith.
Jean Pfaelzer, “The California Colored Conventions and the Formation of Black Abolition in California”
In 1850, California ambivalently entered the Union with a state constitution that banned slavery. But the twisted roots of peonage, captivity, and coerced labor immediately distorted that freedom. Two pieces of legislation transformed California into a slave state: the 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1852 which made it legal for plantation owners to retain enslaved African Americans who they had brought to California for the Gold Rush. The Colored Conventions in California of 1855, 1856, and 1857 arose in response to free and enslaved Blacks need to testify in court to protect themselves against these forces. This paper will describe their unlikely victory, as the Conventions launched a series of petition drives. These California Conventions mark the anti-slavery resistance of an emerging Black community.
Soon after the discovery of gold in 1848 over 6,000 African Americans came freely or were forcibly transported to California. Jointly they resisted the drive to turn California into a slave state by forming a West Coast Underground Railroad, chartering a steamship to carry Blacks to British Columbia, opening public transportation to Blacks, demanding that manumission or “Freedom Papers” be filed in county archives, starting newspapers, and challenging California’s Fugitive Slave Act in court cases, rescues, editorials, slave narratives, and letters. The California Colored Conventions, initially shaped by those in the East, were at the nexus of a rapid formation of an abolition movement in the West and a rapid formation of new African American communities in emergent towns and in new and remote rural counties. Though many free blacks who were leaders at the California Conventions had attended and led earlier Colored Conventions, I argue that factors of newly emergent communities and the vast geography of California created a unique racial site in California. The Conventions reveal how Black communities were forged from easily accessible alliances between free and enslaved Blacks and set expectations for legal standing and civil rights in the new state.
The antebellum Colored Conventions in California forged a community of free and enslaved blacks who established a West Coast convergence of abolitionists who provided information, money, and opportunities for escape and rescue. They arose in the context of the forceful presence of African American women who raised thousands of dollars for John Brown’s raid, and who sat in on the omnibuses to get arrested and desegregate San Francisco’s public transportation system over 100 years ahead of Rosa Parks. The conventions also reveal African Americans’ conscious affiliation with other unfree peoples in California—in particular indentured tribal people and kidnapped Chinese girls sold in dens and brothels in San Francisco and the gold fields. The Conventions challenge to the ban on testifying expose the alliances and fissures with California’s tribal peoples and are critical to understanding California’s diverse people whose demands for justice often overlapped. The coalitions formed in the Conventions made possible the rescue of fugitives and judicial challenges that would write freedom for ethnic minorities into legal precedent. This paper draws from my research toward California Bound: The History of Slavery in the West and turns to the outstanding undergraduate research students did on 1855 delegates when I adopted the Colored Convention Project curriculum.
On the second Tuesday in July of 1883, dozens of distressed black Texans met in Austin for the Texas State Convention for Negroes to address mounting civil rights and economic concerns. Noticeably absent, however, were black women. This paper then examines how black Texas men, hell-bent on deploying the full range of their newly acquired citizenship prerogatives, neglected their most important partners—black women—as they strategized ways to improve the quality of black life in the Lone Star State. In so doing, the all male delegation perhaps unwittingly reproduced the terms of heteropatriarchy and consequently, minimized the contributions of black Texas women to the arduous political fight for equality in the state. For example, the assembled male delegation harnessed their collective voice to reassert their citizenship rights and to present a five-point list of grievances that highlighted biased miscegenation statutes, unequal school funding, the state’s use of convict labor, segregated public accommodations and the exclusion of blacks from jury service. Their unanimous condemnation of emancipation and Reconstruction’s failed promises put them squarely in the mainstream of southern black voices during this time period. Yet, black women were neither invited nor welcomed at the state convention, and instead, a broad spectrum of black Texas men appointed themselves to explain (read ‘mansplain’) how the newly adopted miscegenation statute, for example, “makes pretensions to preserving public morals, common decency and chastity” yet do little to protect the “most promising” females from white aggressors.1 Though issues affecting women and black families were topics of discussion at the convention, the mere fact that women were absent both physically and intellectually illustrates how both race and gender shaped the destinies of black Texans. Moreover, in addition to a reviewing the convention’s proceedings and expanding the profiles of the present male leadership, this essay also explores black women’s responses to their exclusion from this and subsequent state conventions, and it addresses the erasure of Texas State Conventions from the larger historiography on the Long Civil Rights Movement in the nineteenth century South.
Selena R. Sanderfer, “The Emigration Debate in the Southern Colored Conventions, 1865-1885″
Beginning in the 1830s colored conventions took place throughout the northern United States, however it was not until after the Civil War that large numbers of black southerners for the first time were able to participate publicly in political organizing and civic debate. While blacks from both regions of the country expressed a commitment to education, labor rights, and political engagement, the resolutions adopted by black southerners contrast significantly with those of their northern counterparts in regard to their stance on emigration. For the millions of ex-slaves and poor free blacks attempting to make livelihoods after the Emancipation Proclamation colored state and regional conventions in the South promulgated philosophies of political and economic self-determination primarily through land acquisition. Regrettably, the introduction of black codes, sharecropping, and the end of federal oversight stymied many of these aspirations. The strategy of emigration, while overwhelmingly rejected in colored conventions in the North, was relatively uncontested or even encouraged among those in the South in order to achieve such goals. This emphasis on achieving land ownership even through emigration is indicative of the agricultural background of most black southerners and the long history of engagement with colonization movements in the antebellum period. It is also reflective of the draconian post war environment that blatantly disregarded black liberties and thus encouraged the acceptance of more radical forms of black collective action and protest. By examining the proceedings of black southern conventions in places such as Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina one is able to gauge the amount of support for emigration and the nascent formation of a distinctly Southern Black Nationalism. Black southerners’ perspectives on racial uplift will broaden the discourse on black protest and nationalism in the late nineteenth century.
Heather Christine Sinkinson, Poster Abstract
Abner Hunt Francis and Sydna Edmonia Robella Francis were a power couple whose joint mission was to improve the conditions, both social and political, for Americans in America during the 19th century. Abner’s financial success as a businessman gave him an elevated social influence, which he used in the family’s travels across North America. While Sydna and Abner were involved in and led many activists groups such as the Buffalo Anti-Slavery Society and the Female Dorcas Society that advocated topics such as improved schools for African American child, the couple’s biggest success as advocates was overturning a strict Exclusion Law in Oregon. After this event, free blacks over the age of 18 were allowed to continue residence in Oregon. Unfortunately, financial decline and Abner’s death left Sydna a poor widow until her death 17 years later. The Francis’ contribution to social and political reform for African Americans is invaluable.
Derrick R. Spires, “’Little Books’ and Incendiary ‘Address’: The Politics of Form and Voice in the Colored Conventions”
This paper rereads the history of Henry Highland Garnet’s “Address to the Slaves” through the lens of form in National Convention minutes and print culture. The history of Garnet’s “Address” is full of false starts in terms of print and the convention movement. Two National Colored Conventions rejected it—by a slim vote in 1843 and without debate in 1847—and David Walker’s Appeal overshadows it in Garnet’s 1848 pamphlet. The issue was not just publication, but rather, the weight of a National Convention of Colored Citizens’ imprimatur. Garnet’s proposal that those agreeing with the “Address” sign it further suggests his intention to continue previous Conventions’ tradition of issuing addresses, documents distinctly different from the “Reports” that were the only collective statements from the 1843 and 1847 Conventions. Despite these rejections, the “Address” was incredibly durable. Garnet delivered it before at least two National gatherings to acclaim, and it persisted in the larger print culture through minutes and newspapers like the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Emancipator, and North Star. Even through defeat, the fervor of this resistance and harrowing accounts of Garnet’s performances kept his sentiments in circulation, if only as presence in absence.
Ironically, only after Garnet published the “Address” with Walker’s Appeal does the document get the endorsements Garnet sought. Its circulation as a “little book” instead of as a convention address allowed opponents like Frederick Douglass to support it. The 1849 Ohio State Convention resolved to distribute “five hundred copies,” and the 1848 Pennsylvania State Convention’s “Appeals” to voters and colored citizens invoke Walker and Garnet’s rhetorical styles. The debate around the “Address” during National Conventions, its publication with Walker’s Appeal in 1848, and the support from state conventions, then, extend our understanding of what the Colored Conventions’ proceedings and addresses meant as forms, the relation between state and national conventions, and black activists’ ongoing struggle over collective self-representation.
Haleigh Swansen, Poster Abstract | “Musicians and Ministers: The Contributions of Mr. Amos G. Beman and Amanda S. Dutton”
Many of the people who supported, spoke, and fought for the success of the Colored Conventions had little to no political experience; however, through the Conventions, those men and women found opportunities to exercise their trades and hobbies for the sake of a greater cause. This poster highlights the contributions of two such individuals: Mr. Amos G. Beman, a minister from Connecticut, and Mrs. Amanda Scott Dutton, a pianist and singer from Maine. Beman and Dutton both learned to apply the strengths of their respective fields to the anti-slavery efforts of the mid-1800s, despite being trained in disciplines that are not typically considered critical to the political arena. Their willingness to speak, sing, encourage, and even argue with their fellow delegates enhanced the Colored Conventions and the anti-slavery movement at large.
Caleb Trotter, Poster Abstract
In the 19th Century, Delegates attending the New York and Pennsylvania conventions in 1843 and 1855 were interested in recording occupational statistics of Colored People within regions of the United States. During these conventions, the Committee Upon the Condition of Colored People compiled information revealing the various trades, apprenticeships, and other occupations. Today, through the use of modern tools, such as Google Fusion, the raw data from convention minutes can be visualized into charts and graphs. This data allows context, comparison, contrasts, and conclusions to be drawn about the lives of Colored tradesmen that were often marginalized. By transcribing the reported values within the convention minutes, insight can be shown into the traditional, professional, and marginalized lives of Colored US inhabitants during the 19th century.
Psyche Williams-Forson, “Another Seams in the Fabric: Exploring Black Women, Domesticity and Material Culture in the context of the Colored Conventions of the Nineteenth-Century”
Self-determination persists as a theme of this history into the first third of the twentieth-century, and women’s suffrage… [is] merely one seam in the fabric of women’s political struggle.
Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women and the Vote
At the New York meetings held in Troy in 1858 to discuss the question of black suffrage in the state the women did not participate in the debate. They did, however, arrange “a table loaded with the most palatable refreshments, which were eaten during the recess, with a relish.”
James Hornton, “Freedom’s Yoke: Gender Conventions among Antebellum Free Blacks”
The varying roles of black women in liberation politics have been well established. Alongside Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth and others, Mary Ann Shad Carey was tireless in her efforts and adamant in her beliefs in women’s equality, refusing to be silenced or relegated to the role of “helpmate” providing refreshments and entertainments for male repasts.
Yet, some women did perform these roles and perhaps were content to do so. What, then, do we do with their labor? Do we dismiss it as quotidian women’s work undeserving of attention and merit? Or, might we reconsider preexisting theoretical frameworks and read these instances for what they can also suggest about African American women’s contributions to the struggle of emancipation and liberation? Taking as a starting point this query, this paper seeks to explore another “seam in the fabric of women’s political struggle” by examining the domestic spaces, potentially inhabited by convention goers.
Antebellum urban blacks in the North actively took in boarders and lodgers, even sheltered fugitive slaves. For this reason alone, homes and parlors were intensely political spaces. Taken from a larger project that urges a retheorizing of black women’s pursuits of freedom and citizenship by reconsidering cultural symbols of domesticity and the tensions fostered by racial uplift ideology that accompanied these symbols, this paper argues for such an examination by considering the ways in which domestic spaces—advertised during conventions in papers like the Colored American and the Provincial Freeman—served as important political meeting places before, during, and after the convention day, were important sources of income and a means of contributing to anti-slavery efforts for the (largely female) enterprising keepers, served to document the “progress of the colored people,” and in all assumed the work of racial uplift.
Jewon Woo, “Ohio’s Black Women Leaders at the Colored Conventions”
National and state conventions for African Americans of Ohio in the mid-nineteenth century opened the debate on black women’s participation in racial and political leadership. Just coming from the women’s convention in Seneca Falls and Rochester, Frederick Douglass as the President introduced a white woman, Rebecca Sanford with the wordings of women’s rights at the Colored National Convention, which was held at Cleveland, Ohio in 1848. Given that this convention was the first of the national ones to recognize women as having any right to participate, Sanford made a meaningful progress. However, while speaking for women’s right of property in the marriage covenant, Sanford completely omitted black women who were not admitted to attend the convention as delegates. It is notable that a year later at the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio, held in Columbus, the all-male delegates were confronted with a revolt of the black women and reluctantly allowed them full participation.
My presentation focuses on these black women in Ohio who, led by Jane P. Merritt, challenged the exclusively male-dominant leadership of the Conventions. They strategically allied with the Chair of that meeting’s business committee, William Howard Day, and John Watson of Lorain County, who advocated a resolution inviting the women to the leadership. Taking this event as a starting point, I argue that Ohio’s African American women transformed their standing in the state’s political life. Without remaining auxiliary members to their male counterpart, Ohio’s black women represented themselves as laborers, educators, and artist-performers at the Conventions by widely influencing reform movements for African American communities. For this argument, I use the minutes of the national and Ohio Colored Conventions, archives that are hosted at the historical societies in Ohio, and antislavery newspapers.