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.