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National Negro convention movement
1830 - 1864
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It started with a question. A question asked by a sixteen-year-old free black named Hezekiel Grice. Grice, troubled by "the hopelessness of contending against oppression in the United States," wondered if blacks should be encouraged to emigrate, en mass, to Canada. Such a question, he thought, should be carefully considered, so he proposed that a convention be held where the matter could be discussed. He wrote to several black leaders, who approved of the proposal, and on September 15, 1830, the ten-day National Negro Convention began in Philadelphia.
Forty blacks from nine states attended the meeting, including Bishop Richard Allen. From the meeting emerged a new organization, the "American Society of Free5 People of Colour for improving their condition in the United States; for purchasing lands; and for the establishment of a settlement in the Province of Canada," of which Allen was named president. As can be gleened from the society's descriptive title, the answer to Grice's original question was not clear cut. Yes, moving to Canada was encouraged, especially for blacks with children, but the society also acknowledged the need to improve the lives of those who remained in the U.S.
This first meeting of the National Negro Convention would initiate a trend that would continue for the next three decades. The formation of another organization had been recommended -- one which would be called the "American Society of Free Persons of Labor." This group would branch out to several states and hold their own conventions. These, in turn, would lead to the formation of other organizations. The number of conventions, held at local, state, and national levels, blossomed to such a level that, in 1859, one paper would report that "colored conventions are almost as frequent as churchmeetings."
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