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.