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FunTimes Magazine

Short History on the National Negro Convention Movement

Sep 15, 2020 08:00AM ● By Diamond Jones

On September 15, 1830, one freed 16 years old Black boy by the name of Hezekiel Grice witnessed something no Black during that time thought they could ever see. On that day the first National Negro Convention was held and it was all thanks to Grice. Earlier in the year Grice wrote to other free Black leaders in the North, explaining to them that he was tired and concerned for the wellbeing of Blacks in the United States and wanted to make change. He suggested that the Black population move north to Canada in masses and that a convention be held where details could be discussed to a fuller degree. 

Grice and many others felt that a convention about the future of Blacks was needed because of increasing racial tensions in the north. Many northern Black neighborhoods were being destroyed. Newly freed Blacks from the south that had moved north in hopes of a better life were being terrorized right in their homes. In Ohio, ‘Black Laws” were set in place and  strictly enforced. These laws prevented Blacks from going to public schools, holding seats in office and serving on juries. They also required Blacks to pay $500 to obtain proof of their freedom. Without it, they would be forced to move out.

The convention almost didn’t happen. It was Bishop Richard Allen who, once he heard of the idea, encouraged other Blacks to take part. Allen was a well-known and trusted Philadelphian minister. The first convention took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Thirty eight Black men and two Black women from nine different states sat down to discuss their concerns and plans to make change. The two women were Elizabeth Armstrong and Rachel Cliff. 

The National Negro Convention was crucial for helping Blacks create an agenda for building a future for themselves and future generations. Many options and beliefs were shared; some discussed plans for migrating north to Canada where they believed they would be free from discrimination and institutional racism. A select few believed that the best thing to do was to migrate back to Africa because they felt it would be the only place they would ever be accepted. Others thought of ways to make the Black voice bigger in the United States and preferred to work toward gaining equality. As a result multiple societies were formed and many more conventions were held.  

One of the most popular societies of the time of the was the American Society of Free Persons of Color. Bishop Richard Allen was elected president just shy of a week after the first National Negro Convention.   

It didn’t take long for conventions to gain popularity. Meetings were held almost just as often as church services. Together, freed Blacks such as Fredrick Douglas worked with White abolitionist to try to abolish slavery and reform laws to include Blacks on local, state and federal levels. For three decades conventions were held. The last convention was held in Syracuse New York during the fall of 1864, shortly after the passing of the 13th Amendment.

Image: February 6, 1869 Illustration from Harper's Weekly of the Colored National Labor Union convention in Washington, D.C. Store