Local, regional, and national meetings of the Colored Conventions Movement convened in churches; many of these same meetings opened with pray; and resulting resolutions of these gatherings were quite often laced with biblical scripture and imagery. Thus, religion, read Christianity, played a key role in this socio-political movement. This paper argues that this dominant presence of Christianity in the Colored Conventions Movement led to the repression of other non-Christian competing religiosities. Specifically, this work treats William Cooper Nell as a case study in order to examine how individuals simultaneously negotiated non-Christian religious identity and actively participated in the Colored Conventions Movement.
This paper is divided into four sections. The first section explores the variety of ways that religion (again, read Christianity) was integrated into the structural framework of the Colored Conventions Movement. The second section considers the Spiritualist activities of William Cooper Nell. Utilizing letters written by Nell to Amy Post (Rochesterian abolitionist and Spiritualist) housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester, this section looks at the active role that Nell played in the Spiritualist Movement for over twenty years. The third section examines how Nell negotiated this Spiritualist identity in light of his participation in a Christianized Colored Conventions Movement, particularly as seen with his involvement in the Colored Conventions of Western New York. The final section considers at least three implications: recovery of “hidden histories” of African American Spiritualists like William Cooper Nell, recognition of archival material as viable source material, and intersectionality between identity construction, religion, race, and socio-political movements (e.g., Colored Conventions Movement).