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ing something other than Americans. That some-
thing would have to be outside the United States.
This, of course, was the position of the Ameri-
can Colonization Society, founded late in 1816, three
years after Forten published his Letters from a Man of
Colour. A peculiar mixture of southerners and north-
erners, of pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates, of
conservatives and liberals, the ACS proposed to pu-
rify the nation through the removal of dark-skinned
residents, in effect announcing that America was a
white man s republic.26 Black Philadelphians such as
James Forten and Richard Allen at first believed that
emigrationism would be voluntary and occur on
black terms, not white. They would shortly change
their minds.
For black Philadelphians, the question of national
identity came to a dramatic head on a cold, wintry
night in January 1817. Believing themselves a part of a
biracial republic, not yet equal but progressing to-
ward full citizenship, they flocked to a clamorous
meeting in the city s main black sanctuary, Richard
Allen s African Methodist Episcopal Church. Squeez-
ing his way forward to the pulpit, Forten marveled at
three thousand men packing the main floor, over-
flowing the U-shaped balcony, and spilling into the
street. Nearly three quarters of the city s black men
had gathered to speak their minds on citizenship and
national identity. Forten had been pondering the
meeting of white political leaders who three weeks
before in Washington had founded the ACS and is-
sued statements that repatriating free black Ameri-
cans to Africa was the only solution to the nation s
growing racial problem. Forten thought of his Rhode
Island friend Paul Cuffe, the Afro-Indian ship cap-
tain who for more than a decade had been promot-
ing resettlement in Africa, believing that black Amer-
icans had no future in the United States.27
So Forten, chairing the meeting, rose to address a
sea of dark faces. The man who had staked his iden-
tity as an American and had prospered in the city of
his birth called on Philadelphia s three notable black
ministers Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and John
Gloucester. All spelled out the advantages of return-
ing to ancestral homelands. Then Forten endorsed
the idea, reluctantly admitting that black Americans
 will never become a people until they come out from
amongst the white people. Now came time for a
straw vote. Forten called first for the  ayes, those fa-
voring a return to Africa. Not a voice was heard nor a
hand lifted. Then he called for those opposed to this.
One tremendous  no arose, Forten later wrote,  as if
it would bring down the walls of the building . . .
There was not a soul that was in favor of going to Af-
rica. 28
The emotional meeting at Richard Allen s church
in 1817, repeated throughout the nation over the next
few years, had an annealing effect among black
Americans. The black masses instinctively under-
stood what some of their leaders did not that while
some white ACS leaders were sincere about helping
black Americans and others were zealous to send
black Christian missionaries to convert all Africans
to Christianity, the colonization scheme was mostly
the instrument of southerners whose main interest
was a massive deportation of free blacks while pro-
viding cover for slavery s expansion.
Forten, Allen, and other black leaders in Philadel-
phia would dabble in colonization schemes in Can-
ada and Haiti in the future, but never again would
they speak on behalf of repatriation to Africa. The
unanimously endorsed resolution presented after the
vote taken at Richard Allen s church expressed a new
commitment to abolitionism and racial equality.
 Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first
successful cultivators of the wilds of America, the
resolution affirmed,  we their descendants feel our-
selves entitled to participate in the blessings of her
luxuriant soil which their blood and sweat ma-
nured. Again referring to the founding documents
on which common citizenship was based, black Phil-
adelphians avowed  that any measure . . . having the
tendency to banish us from her bosom, would not
only be cruel, but in direct violation of those princi-
ples which have been the boast of the republic. 29
Local supporters of the American Colonization
Society still retained hope to win black northerners
over to the idea of returning to Africa and in this way
render moot the entire matter of black citizenship
rights. In mid-1818, a Philadelphia newspaper printed
a faux debate between William Penn (dead for almost
a century), the recently deceased Absalom Jones,
founder and minister of Philadelphia s St. Thomas
African Episcopal Church; and Paul Cuffe, James
Forten s friend who supported colonization of free
black Americans to Sierra Leone. In the  dialogues
on the African colony, Jones rejected repatriation
as a deportation scheme designed to smother the
efforts of abolitionists. Cuffe tried to convince him
otherwise, and Penn, having consulted George Wash-
ington (also dead since 1799), reported that the
founding father greatly favored the return to Africa
for the good of black Americans. Finally, Absalom
Jones swallowed his doubts that whatever pleased
slavemasters could benefit free blacks.  My objec-
tions have been refuted, he said in this mock debate;
 my scruples vanquished. And all my doubts satis-
fied, Heaven speed the undertaking! 30
Few black Philadelphians hearing or reading the
dialogues packed their bags, left the city, and headed
home to Africa. Rather they remonstrated in 1818 and
1819 against the Colonization Society and spoke with
their feet when the ACS dispatched the first two
ships to establish the colony of Liberia in 1819 and
1820. Of about 10,000 free black Philadelphians, only
twenty-two joined the expedition, though economic
conditions in the city had worsened greatly. A few
years later, another recruitment campaign netted
only another handful for settlement in Liberia.
By 1818, Tench Coxe must have wished that Phila-
delphia s black masses had opted for immigration to
West Africa. The deep depression that followed the
end of the War of 1812, the most severe ever experi-
enced in the northern cities, may have shattered his
earlier optimism about the assimilation of free black
people and their potential as respectable citizens. Or
had he fallen in line with the Jeffersonian faith in
state-centered democracy, which was leading toward
restrictions on black citizenship? Or had Philadel-
phia s white workingmen, who formed the Jefferso-
nian party s spine, changed his mind as they grew in-
creasingly rabid on race issues? Or had the essays of
men such as Charles Caldwell and Thomas Branagan
reconfigured his thinking? Whatever the causes, Coxe
reversed course, now viewing free African Americans
concentrated in northern cities as an impoverished,
uneducated mass for whom the rights of full citizen-
ship were inappropriate.
But if free black people were a pariah group, how [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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