The Black Nation, Mobility, and the Colored Conventions Movement in the Digital Age

AHA Session 296
Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Carla Peterson, University of Maryland, College Park
Samantha DeVera, University of California, San Diego
Sharla M. Fett, Occidental College
Anna Lacy, University of Delaware
Selena Ronshaye Sanderfer, Western Kentucky University

Session Abstract

This panel will investigate the ways nineteenth-century African Americans imagined and wrote about the Black nation, how they sought to realize it in and outside of the United States, and how this work reflected contested, organic ideologies of woman, man, nation, race, citizen, fugitivity, and borders. The desire for a nation has long permeated the works and actions of African American writers and activists, and this collective desire manifested in multiple ways, testifying to the diversity of Black communities in the nineteenth century. The Colored Conventions movement reveals such diversity as Black activists came from all over the United States to meet and strategize. Hoping to escape violent persecution, some turned to emigration within the United States while others looked to Canada, Liberia, and South Africa. Emigrationists saw the Black nation as a nation existing beyond the borders of the United States. Ultimately, undergirding domestic and transnational Black mobility is the hope for a space that would be conducive to the creation of a unified Black identity. How African Americans of different classes and stations in life imagined the Black nation needs further dynamic analysis. Focusing on this would allow us to interrogate, not just literary works, but also the minutes of the Colored Conventions.

This panel will explore the Black nation as conceptualized by Colored Conventions delegates and attendees. Southern, Northern, Midwest, and California conventions display different trends, and, at times, the delegates of each region share similar goals. How did individuals’ regional differences influence the solutions they proposed? And how did aiming for a Black nation inform their proposals? Delegates were also prolific writers and newspaper contributors, which means that the Black press is replete with pieces that recount and echo the debates within the conventions. How ideas about the Black nation appeared—or did not appear—in delegates and attendees’ textual production needs deeper investigation. Black women participated in these conventions, and they also published their ideas about emigration and nationhood in the press. They also conceived their role in the Black nation differently from men and understood it to be as—if not more—important. But for both men and women, the Black nation is a space where upward mobility would not obstructed by numerous legal, social, and political impediments. Through exhibits and by using digital tools, the Colored Conventions Project visualizes and maps mobility in the nineteenth century. The project highlights the Colored Conventions delegates and attendees’ economic and political contributions as well as their networks. This panel will share the Colored Conventions Project’s works and articulate the ways African American men and women envisioned a distinct nation, and in doing so enacted upward mobility, as well as domestic and transnational mobility.

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