National Council of Colored People Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The National Council of Colored People was short-lived and ineffective but remains significant because it was one of the earliest efforts to improve the lives of African Americans on a national level.

Summary of Event

On Wednesday, July 6, 1853, more than one hundred delegates from around the United States assembled in Rochester, New York, for a three-day convention to form the National Council of Colored People. This organization was an outgrowth of the Negro Convention Negro Convention movement movement that had begun almost twenty-three years earlier. National Council of Colored People African Americans;National Council of Colored People [kw]National Council of Colored People Is Founded (July 6, 1853) [kw]Council of Colored People Is Founded, National (July 6, 1853) [kw]Colored People Is Founded, National Council of (July 6, 1853) [kw]People Is Founded, National Council of Colored (July 6, 1853) [kw]Founded, National Council of Colored People Is (July 6, 1853) National Council of Colored People African Americans;National Council of Colored People [g]United States;July 6, 1853: National Council of Colored People Is Founded[2920] [c]Civil rights and liberties;July 6, 1853: National Council of Colored People Is Founded[2920] [c]Social issues and reform;July 6, 1853: National Council of Colored People Is Founded[2920] [c]Organizations and institutions;July 6, 1853: National Council of Colored People Is Founded[2920] Allen, Richard Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and National Council of Colored People[National Council of Colored People]

Philadelphia had been the host of the first meeting for the Negro Convention movement in late September of 1830. Richard Allen Allen, Richard organized the convention with the intention of improving the lives of African Americans by raising their social status through education and, possibly, emigration. The convention met many times in many cities, discussing plans for improvement, and the group thrived on the increasing solidarity among its members. At a convention meeting in Rochester, New York, the plan for the National Council of Colored People was adopted. The Rochester meeting drew many prominent black leaders, including Frederick Douglass Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and National Council of Colored People[National Council of Colored People] , James McCune Smith, and James Pennington.

A constitution was drawn up for the new organization, and a president and several vice presidents were chosen. The twenty-two founding members were divided among four committees. One committee was in charge of public relations and also was responsible for creating a library and museum Museums;African American of African American people. Another committee was instructed to help develop and direct a manual-labor school. A third committee supervised the protective unions. The last committee was the business committee, which dealt with the greatest share of the workload. Its role was to assist in the selling of African American products and the employment of African American people, and to act as a resource center for the advancement of African Americans.

At the 1853 meeting, the council members also discussed the rampant racial oppression of the African American people, even as they were discussing signs of improvement in society. Members of both the convention and the newly formed National Council of Colored People believed that to accelerate the rate of improvement of the social status of African Americans, it was necessary to create a new Education;African American institution for the education of African American African Americans;education youth. That new institution would be an industrial school that concentrated on agriculture and the mechanical arts. Convention members believed that the education of African American youth would enable them to acquire wealth, intelligence, virtue, and, eventually, happiness. However, on the second day of the convention, the council elected to withdraw from the proposed school plan because of the exclusive nature of the school.

Discussion on the last day of the meeting of the National Council of Colored People focused on the term “colored” in the name of the organization. After much discussion, the organization determined to retain its original name. In the final hours of the last day of the convention, the council endorsed two seminaries as places for the education of African Americans—McGrawville College McGrawville College[MacGrawville College] and Allegheny City College Allegheny City College .

On November 15, 1853, elections were held in several cities to elect delegates for the formation of new state councils that would act in accordance with the National Council of Colored People. The leading delegates would attend the national council meetings as well as their own state council meetings. The first national meeting was held on November 23, 1853, in New York. At least one council member each from the states of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Ohio was missing, but because of the great distance the other council members had traveled, the meeting continued. After proceeding with the meeting, one delegate from Ohio appeared and demanded that all prior proceedings be nullified. This caused great distress among the council members; eventually, the minutes of the meeting were lost, never to be found again. The controversy resulting from the Ohio delegate’s demands created a somewhat hostile working environment, which contributed to the short life of the council. Despite the bleak beginnings of the national council, the state councils were operating much more smoothly and with enthusiasm.

In both the national and state councils, the idea of creating an African American school was revisited. Frederick Douglass Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and National Council of Colored People[National Council of Colored People] defended the school plan unsuccessfully for two years. The country was experiencing an economic depression, which made it hard to fund the school. There also was still concern over the exclusive nature of an African American school. In many ways, the country itself was split on the issue of a separate African American nation, which many emigrationists had proposed.

Session of the National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C., in 1869.

(Library of Congress)

The idea of a separate African American school brought many emotions to the forefront. Integrationists were wary of accepting such a school plan because of the isolation of the school and its students, yet even they saw benefits in an all-black school. Emigrationists considered the proposal and were much more willing to begin work on construction. Amid much opposition, the convention elected to discontinue plans for the proposed school in October, 1855. The other committees set up by the first national convention and their ambitious plans to assist African Americans in business pursuits and the creation of a library and museum Museums;African American seemed to have stopped on paper. However, there are no records of any progress toward the goals being made or of any meetings of the committees being held.

The second meeting of the National Council of Colored People was scheduled for May 24, 1854, in Cleveland, but it was postponed in order to accommodate more delegates. Eventually, only a few delegates were able to attend. Among the members attending, a debate developed over the recognition of Ohio at the national level, creating a deadlock. A suggestion to dissolve the organization was narrowly defeated in a close vote. However, the Ohio delegates withdrew from the council.

At the meeting of May 8, 1855, nearly all the delegates were from New York, as most others had declined to participate. The issue of an African American school again was discussed and once again defeated. Another issue was discussed for the first time—emigration to Canada. Canada;African American immigrants African Americans;and Canada[Canada] Although most delegates at the convention were willing to remain in the United States, they expressed trepidation on the matter of the U.S. Constitution and the issue of slavery. The issue of emigration was the last to be discussed before the close of the final meeting of the National Council of Colored People. The state councils continued to operate and pursue social equality for African Americans for a few years longer, with councils in some states surviving longer than others.

Significance

Although the National Council of Colored People lasted for only a few years, its attempts at social reform—tackling such important topics as the education and emigration of African Americans—were significant because they occurred on a national level, bringing recognition to the need for improvement of African American lives.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bell, Howard Holman. A Survey of the Negro Convention Movement, 1830-1861. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Contains substantial information on the Negro Convention movement, which gave rise to the National Council of Colored People.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blassingame, John W., and John R. McKivigan, eds. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series 1, Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Vol. 2, 1847-1854. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Includes several references to the industrial college proposed at the 1853 meeting in Rochester, New York.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series 1, Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Vol. 4, 1864-1880. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Contains a speech and several pages of notes from the National Council meeting in May, 1855.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lawson, Bill E., and Frank M. Kirkland, eds. Frederick Douglass: A Critical Reader. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. Essays by fifteen leading American philosophers who place Douglass’s work in contemporary social and political thought.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stauffer, John. The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. Study of the interracial alliance among Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, Gerrit Smith, and John Brown. The four men worked together on temperance and feminist issues as well as on abolition, seeking to achieve what Stauffer describes as a “vision of sacred, sin-free and pluralistic society.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wu, Jin-Ping. Frederick Douglass and the Black Liberation Movement: The North Star of American Blacks. New York: Garland, 2000. Reassesses Douglass’s place in the history of the black liberation movement, focusing on his impact on other black leaders and his Legitimate Reform Society.

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