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.