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.