The Meeting that Launched a Movement: The First National Convention


Urgency marks the organization of the 1830 convention. African Americans across the country had sensed the need to start a national dialogue for several years, evidenced by the publications of Freedom’s Journal and “Walker’s Appeal.” This growing desire culminated in action after anti-Black riots and oppressive laws engulfed the city of Cincinnati in 1829. As a result, the 1830 convention was organized more quickly and attended by fewer delegates than subsequent conventions, which can serve as an explanation for some of the discrepancies that cause us to question its place in the movement.

From 1831 to 1835 conventions adopted a different name and different rules, but did not altogether ignore the significance of the 1830 convention. In fact, the convention held in Philadelphia in 1832 offers a detailed account of the outcome of the 1830 convention and an explanation for why subsequent conventions changed course away from emigration:

“A part of the white inhabitants of said province (Canada) had, through prejudice and the fear of being overburthened with an ejected population, petitioned the provincial parliament to prohibit the general influx of colored population from entering their limits, which threw some consternation on the prospect. The Convention did not wholly abandon the subject, but turned its attention more to the elevation of our people in this, our native home.”

Thus, Bishop Richard Allen’s 1830 vision of Canada as a nation that makes “no invidious distinction based upon race” turned out to be just a vision, not yet a reality. By 1832, delegates appear to have begun to again accept the United States as their “native home,” and to shift their focus to improving the conditions of the Black community within its oppressive political system. The 1830 convention was not an outlier of the Colored Conventions movement but rather a prelude to it. It established the groundwork for what would become a century-long phenomenon of Black political organizing.