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Modern Voices
Margaret Washington on Philadelphia
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Q: Why were African Americans so drawn to Philadelphia?
Margaret Washington

A: Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, was for African Americans in the 1790's kind of a mecca. Coming out of bondage, coming out of the American Revolution, looking for a place to be free, African Americans came to Philadelphia, and this was the beginning of the institutional development of freedom in the North. One of the reasons African Americans would want to go to Philadelphia was because of their manumission movement. Pennsylvania was the earliest of the northern states to engage in manumission. So that's the first clue for African Americans that this is a place that they want to be in, where freedom for people of African descent is taken seriously.

And even before Philadelphia or Pennsylvania had a manumission law, Quakers in Philadelphia were freeing their slaves. And not just freeing them, but finding apprenticeships for them, trying to find an educational situation for them. So it was a way in which African Americans could hopefully find freedom.
Margaret Washington
Associate Professor of History
Cornell Universiy

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