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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History


The NATIONAL EMIGRATION CONVENTION OF COLORED PEOPLE, led by early African American nationalist Martin R. Delany, was held in Cleveland from 24-26 Aug. 1854. It was called to discuss the merits of emigration and develop a practical plan for AFRICAN AMERICANS in the U.S. to emigrate to the West Indies or Central or South America. One historian has credited the meeting with giving birth "to a new concept of black nationalism never before allowed expression in America." The call for the convention announced that discussions would be open "specifically by and for the friends of emigration and none others--and no opposition to them will be entertained." Such strident language unleashed a heated debate and brought harsh criticism from some, particularly Frederick Douglass. The call attracted 106 delegates to the Congregational Church on Prospect St. The largest delegation was from the Pittsburgh area; others came from Louisiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Canada, as well as from the northern states. Cuyahoga County was represented by Stephen Jones, R. M. Johnson, William Dixon, MADISON TILLEY†, and 5 women: Mary Davis, Nancy Williams, Sarah Graves, Louisa S. Brown, and Julia Williams, who were among 24 other women delegates. The convention denied Clevelander JOHN MALVIN†'s request to speak in opposition to emigration. Delegates approved a series of resolutions and a declaration of sentiments, which stridently commented upon the political and social condition of blacks in the U.S. They also approved a lengthy document entitled "Political Destiny of the Colored Race," which urged emigration to areas such as Central and South America, which provided opportunity for "the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty." The convention established a Board of Commissioners, based in Pittsburgh. Delany was chosen as president, and along with fellow commissioners William Webb and Charles W. Nighten, he led the emigration movement until it peaked in 1861.

Proceedings of the National Emigration Convention of Colored People (1854), WRHS.

Last Modified: 04 Mar 1998 04:57:06 PM

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