The Geography of Black Colonization and Emigration

Saturday, January 4, 2014
Exhibit Hall B South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Phillip W. Magness, Institute for Humane Studies

Between April and July of 1862 the United States Congress appropriated some $600,000 to finance the resettlement of emancipated slaves abroad. This racially tinged policy of colonization traces back to the establishment of Liberia in 1816, though only through the Civil War and the emerging emancipation policies of the Lincoln administration did it receive federal backing.

While much has been written about the wartime colonization movement, including a notoriously failed resettlement scheme in Haiti, surprisingly little attention has been given to the role of geography in the U.S. government's pursuit of colonization.

This oversight is striking considering that latent imperial motives often accompanied the U.S. government's interest in locales across the Caribbean and Latin America. Of similar significance though also neglect, several free African-Americans approached the government's colonization offer by weighing the uncertainties of a post-slavery United States against the prospect of attaining greater political and social equality abroad, wherein geography proved to be of central importance.


This poster will display the first comprehensive geographical representation of the black colonization movement in the Civil War era, synthesizing information about both proposed and attempted colonization sites and the competitive push by their backers to attain federal funding for each.

Information will be drawn upon a variety of primary source records including land records, descriptive accounts from several investigative voyages to proposed colonization sites, and sailing routes between U.S. ports and a variety of intended colonization locales. Documents to be consulted include the colonization office records of the US National Archives, the American Colonization Society papers, primary source accounts of voyages and site visitations, and newspaper reports concerning colonization.

Specific attention will be given to imperial aspects of black colonization such as the strategic proximity of a Central American isthmian crossing and several investigative missions made by free African-Americans to evaluate prospective mass migrations to proposed colonization sites in Liberia, Haiti, Jamaica, and Latin America during the Civil War and preceding decades. Finally, the poster display will help to explain the role of geography in the decline of the colonization movement, explaining eventual abandonment by white political figures and its rejection by African-Americans.


This project is being undertaken in conjunction with an ongoing multi-volume book series on black colonization, emigration, and post-slavery diasporas under the author's editorship. It will be utilized to further inform this project and to contextualize it within the larger geography of transnational migration in the mid 19th century.


The presenter is a specialist on the black colonization and emigration movements. He is the co-author of Colonization After Emancipation (U. Missouri Press, 2011) the first book-length treatment of the Lincoln administration's colonization policies. His other work on colonization and the black emigrationists Henry Highland Garnet and John Willis Menard has appeared in Slavery & Abolition, the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, and several periodicals on Civil War history.

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