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Part 4: 1831-1865

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Modern Voices
Emma Lapsansky on the American Society of Free Persons of Colour
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Q: How did free black communities respond to attacks on their identity?
Emma Lapsansky

A: I would say that that African American consciousness really doesn't come until about 1830, when you have the first generation of people who are all born in this country. But until 1810, '11, '12, there's still so many different kinds of people, and there isn't any real reason for them to pull together as a community. I know it would be lovely and romantic if they did, and it would make a great story. But I'm not sure that story can be told. I think that the real consciousness of an African American community qua African American community, as opposed to Africans kind of scooping themselves together and trying to make a community, that the real consciousness comes with that convention in 1830.

The 1830 convention was the first time that a group of people got together and said, "Okay, who are we? What will we call ourselves? And once we call ourselves something, what will we do about what we call ourselves?" And they said, "Well, we're going to call ourselves Americans. We're going to start a newspaper. We're going to start a free produce movement. We're going to organize ourselves to go to Canada if we have to." They began to have an agenda. And I would say that until well into the 1820's, they really don't have an agenda. And for me, you got to have an agenda in order to have a coherent community.

Emma Lapsansky
Professor of History
Haverford College

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