In the Introduction, Background, and Overview, I covered all of the necessary bases to help with better understand the ideas, events, and concepts to be discussed in this series. So, if you haven’t already, please check that out first.
In this part, which will be Part 1 to the series, I will cover the early schemes of colonization; or more specifically, the objection to those movements by prominent, black leaders and abolitionists.
Before the Colonization Society
Prior to the development of the American Colonization Society, and regardless of the intentions of these movements, there were movements, or at least rumors of movements, suggesting that blacks in American migrate to Africa.
One such movement is the proposal made to the Free African Society of Philadelphia by some in Newport, Rhode Island. As well as being mentioned in the introduction to this series, in an excerpt from Du Bois, it is also mentioned in this article in The Crisis about Richard Allen. According to that same article, the colonization idea that had gained some ground before the American Revolution with Revered Samuel Hopkins, as well as Dr. Ezra Stiles, who later became the President of Yale College. In this correspondence from Hopkins, despite any religious and/or moral objections to slavery, it can be seen that there is also an underlying motivation (hence the name) to colonize Africa using blacks and spreading Christianity.
Another effort that one can find predating the Colonization Society is that of Paul Cuffee. Although the linked article mentions Cuffee as the first–which appears to not be the case given the above mentioned–it was still an early back-to-Africa movement. In relation to Cuffee’s efforts, it is also mentioned that the British were involved in a scheme in Sierra Leonne to quote: “remove the burthen of the Blacks from the public forever”. That scheme was partially connected to black Loyalists following the American Revolution, where some blacks settled in Nova Scotia, others in England.
It is also noted, in the related article, that Richard Allen, who was a founding member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was actively opposed to colonization very early on, to at one point contending, as quoted in the article, that “this land which we have watered with our tears and our blood is now our mother country, and we are well satisfied to stay where wisdom abounds and the gospel is free.” This leadership in opposition and recognition of the problems of colonization, which included extremely harsh conditions and high mortality rates, as well as the underlying, white supremacist and colonial ambitions, was a beginning to the trend of abolitionist opposition, particularly among prominent black, religious leaders.
American Colonization Society
What I wanted to show in my video, and what I want to show in a bit more detail and writing here, is how and why, even if this narrative is not completely incorrect, it is completely misleading to view things from that perspective.
I started that video by first going back to Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. I then went on to discuss Marcus Garvey and Du Bois, prior to ending the issue with Malcolm and Dr. King. In this article, however, I would like to go back to the American Colonization Society (ACS), which was founded in 1816. The goals and context of the ACS briefly found its way into the first video in that part where I shared a clip of W.E.B. Du Bois and his discussion of the issue. His discussion was in connection with the black perception of the issue over time, as well as American, versus African, identity among blacks in the U.S.
By moving the discussion of the ACS to the front, it should allow for a brief, albeit, a broader discussion of the very early, white supremacist motivations behind particular ideas of separatism. Specifically, those ideas that were aimed at what could be considered politically active, radical and/or more militant blacks, who, e.g., during the times of the colonization movement, were in a great position to participate in the contemporary movements to abolish slavery or even to spark uprisings. The discussion here should provide a contextual foundation for the continued discussion of how similar tactics espoused by those with separatist ideals were utilized over time, as well as the relationship of those separatists ideas to ideas that were (and continue to be), at their core, rooted in white supremacy.
A related narrative is one of the connections of pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism or an otherwise pro-black agenda, with a separatist and/or back-to-Africa mentality. As Du Bois shows through his activity, those are rather disconnected, ideological strains. Du Bois rejected back-to-Africa and Garvey inspired ideas, while, he, himself, was a founding participant in both the first Pan-African Conferences and the later Pan-African Congresses. As was noted by Du Bois, there was an opposition to the colonization movement and ideas about emigrating to Africa, basically throughout. He states that the goals were realized as being a way to “get rid of the free Negroes” and to “have only Negro slaves here”; and over time, it was, seen as out of line to even mention blacks emigrating from America to Africa.
Contemporary Objections by Abolitionists
If you look at a lot of the leaders of the American abolitionist movement, generally–including the prominent, black leaders of that period–there were a lot of vehement rejections of the colonization movement.
To quote from an early objection to the American Colonization Society, James Forten, 1817, in An Address to the Humane & Benevolent Inhabitants of the City and County of Philadelphia:
“… we have no
wish to separate from our present homes, for any purpose whatever.
Disclaiming, as we emphatically do, a wish or desire to interpose our opinions and feelings between all plans of colonization, and the judgment of those whose wisdom as far exceeds ours, as their situations are exalted above ours; We humbly, respectfully, and fervently entreat and beseech your disapprobation of the plan of colonization now offered by “the American society for colonizing the free people of colour in the United States.”—Here, in the city of Philadelphia, where the voice of the suffering sons of Africa was first heard; where was first commenced the work of abolition, on which Heaven hath smiled, for it could have had success only from the Great Maker; let not a purpose be assisted which will stay the cause of the entire abolition of slavery in the United States, and which may defeat it altogether; which proffers to those who do not ask for them what it calls benefits, but which they consider injuries; and which must insure to the multitudes whose prayers can only reach you through us, misery, and sufferings, and perpetual slavery.”
In David Walker’s Appeal (1829), Article IV, he addresses what is titled: Our Wretchedness in Consequence of the Colonization Plan. He starts and goes on to address others on the issue of colonization, as such:
“That is to say, to fix a plan to get those of the coloured people, who are said to be free, away from among those of our brethren whom they unjustly hold in bondage, so that they may be enabled to keep them the more secure in ignorance and wretchedness, to support them and their children, and consequently they would have the more obedient slaves. For if the free are allowed to stay among the slaves, they will have intercourse together, and, of course, the free will learn the slaves bad habits, by teaching them that they are MEN, as well as other people, and certainly ought, and must be FREE.
Here is a demonstrative proof, of a plan got up by a gang of slave-holders to select the free people of colour from among the slaves, that our more miserable brethren may be the better secured in ignorance and wretchedness, to work their farms and dig their mines, and thus go on enriching the christians with their blood and groans. What our brethren could have been thinking about, who have left their native land and home and gone away to Africa I am unable to say. This country is as much ours as it is the whites, whether they will admit it now or not, they will see and believe it by and by. They tell us about prejudice—what have we to do with it? Their prejudices will be obliged to fall like lightning to the ground, in succeeding generations; not, however with the will and consent of all the whites, for some will be obliged to hold on to the old adage, viz.: the blacks are not men, but were made to be an inheritance to us and our children forever!!!!!! I hope the residue of the coloured people will stand still and see the salvation of God, and the miracle which he will work for our delivery from wretchedness under the christians!!!!!!”
He goes on to share a full excerpt from Richard Allen that was published in Freedom’s Journal in 1827.
“”Dear Sir, I have been for several years trying to reconcile my mind to the Colonizing of Africans in Liberia, but there have always been, and there still remain great and insurmountable objections against the scheme. We are an unlettered people, brought up in ignorance, not one in a hundred can read or write, not one in a thousand has a liberal education; is there any fitness for such to be sent into a far country, among heathens, to convert or civilize them, when they themselves are neither civilized or christianized? See the great bulk of the poor, ignorant Africans in this country, exposed to every temptation before them: all for the want of their morals being refined by education and proper attendance paid unto them by their owners, or those who had the charge of them. It is said by the Southern slave-holders, that the more ignorant they can bring up the Africans, the better slaves they make, ‘go and come.’ Is there any fitness for such people to be colonized in a far country, to be their own rulers? Can we not discern the project of sending the free people of colour away from their country? Is it not for [pg 68] the interest of the slave-holders to select the free people of colour out of the different states, and send them to Liberia? Will it not make their slaves uneasy to see free men of colour enjoying liberty? It is against the law, in some of the southern states, that a person of colour should receive an education, under a severe penalty. Colonizationists speak of America being first colonized, but is there any comparison between the two? America was colonized by as wise, judicious and educated men as the world afforded. William Penn did not want for learning, wisdom, or intelligence. If all the people in Europe and America were as ignorant, and in the same situation as our brethren, what would become of the world? where would be the principle or piety that would govern the people? We were stolen from our mother country, and brought here. We have tilled the ground and made fortunes for thousands, and still they are not weary of our services. But they who stay to till the ground must be slaves. Is there not land enough in America, or ‘corn enough in Egypt?’ Why should they send us into a far country to die? See the thousands of foreigners emigrating to America every year: and if there be ground sufficient for them to cultivate, and bread for them to eat; why would they wish to send the first tillers of the land away? Africans have made fortunes for thousands, who are yet unwilling to part with their services; but the free must be sent away, and those who remain must be slaves. I have no doubt that there are many good men who do not see as I do, and who are for sending us to Liberia; but they have not duly considered the subject—they are not men of colour. This land which we have watered with our tears and our blood, is now our mother country, and we are well satisfied to stay where wisdom abounds and the gospel is free.””
As mentioned by Du Bois (quoted in the introduction), David Walker would die shortly after writing his appeal, at the young age of 33. There were suspicions as to if he might have been poisoned.
An 1832 article in The Liberator:
“Resolved, That we object to leaving the land of our birth…
Resolved, That we ask the Colonizationists, how in the name of common sense and reason do they expect to make us believe they will do so much for us after we have crossed the Atlantic, when they oppose every measure adopted by our white brethren and friends to improve our conditions here?
Resolved, That we view every free man of color that emigrates to Africa, or advocates the cause of the American Colonization Society, an enemy to humanity, religion, and justice, and a traitor to his brethren. ”
From Frederick Douglass in The North Star 1849:
“In order to divert the hounds from the pursuit of the fox, a ‘red herring’ is sometimes drawn across the trail, and the hounds mistaking it for the real scent, the game is often lost.
Here we have the old colonization spirit revived, and the impudent proposition entertained by the Senate of the United States of expelling the free colored people from the United States, their native land, to Liberia.
For two hundred and twenty-eight years has the colored man toiled over the soil of America, under a burning sun and a driver’s lash—plowing, planting, reaping, that white men might roll in ease, their hands unhardened by labor, and their brows unmoistened by the waters of genial toil; and now that the moral sense of mankind is beginning to revolt at this system of foul treachery and cruel wrong, and is demanding its overthrow, the mean and cowardly oppressor is meditating plans to expel the colored man entirely from the country. Shame upon the guilty wretches that dare propose, and all that countenance such a proposition. We live here—have lived here—have a right to live here, and mean to live here.—F.D.”
More objections can be found in another piece in The Liberator: Beriah Green, Objections to the Colonization Society. As well as this work by William Lloyd Garrison (1832): Thoughts on African Colonization; or an Impartial Exhibition of the Doctrines, Principles and Purposes of the American Colonization Society. Together with the Resolutions, Addresses and Remonstrances of the Free People of Color.
For more context, Du Bois revisits the issue in Black Reconstitution (1935) saying the following:
“From before the time of Washington and Jefferson down to the Civil War, the nation had asked if it were possible for free Negroes to become American citizens in the full sense of the word. The answers to this problem, historically, had taken these forms:
1. Negroes, after conversion to Christianity, were in the same position as other colonial subjects of the British King. This attitude disappeared early in colonial history.
2. When the slave trade was stopped, Negroes would die out. Therefore, the attack upon slavery must begin with the abolition of the slave trade and after that the race problem would settle itself. This attitude was back of the slave trade laws, 1808-20.
3. If Negroes did not die out, and if gradually by emancipation and the economic failure of slavery they became free, they must be systematically deported out of the country, back to Africa or elsewhere, where they would develop into an independent people or die from laziness or disease. This represented the attitude of liberal America from the end of the War of 1812 down to the beginning of the Cotton Kingdom.
4. Negroes were destined to be perpetual slaves in a new economy which recognized a caste of slave workers. And this caste system might eventually displace the white worker. At any rate, it was destined to wider expansion toward the tropics. This was the attitude of the Confederacy.”
Du Bois also, quoting Lincoln, shows how Lincoln at his most racist, including during his presidency supported ideas of colonization, along with the rejection of ideas related to blacks living among whites with equal civil and political rights.
Toward the end, the following was stated, by Lincoln to General Butler, as late as April, 1865:
“I wish you would examine the question and give me your views upon it and go into the figures as you did before in some degree so as to show whether the Negroes can be exported.”
It was replied that, “I have gone very carefully over my calculations as to the power of the country to export the Negroes of the South and I assure you that, using all your naval vessels and all the merchant marine fit to cross the seas with safety, it will be impossible for you to transport to the nearest place that can be found fit for them—and that is the Island of San Domingo, half as fast as Negro children will be born here.”
That brings up, what is also a core issue, the practicality (or impracticality) of getting any great number of black Americans out of the U.S. As Du Bois notes: “The Secretary of the Interior in December 1863, reported that the Negroes were no longer willing to leave the United States and that they were needed in the army. For these reasons, he thought that they should not be forcibly deported. On July 2, 1864, all laws relating to Negro colonization were repealed.”
Prior to moving on, I would like to point out that not all movements and efforts to push going back to Africa were led by whites and/or had explicit, or underlying, white supremacist tenancies. In each case, it is tough to see exactly what people’s motivations and underlying intentions are. It is also difficult, in every case, to accurately judge an individuals wisdom with regard to their inititives. However, beyond the previous mentioned movements, here are some others:
Martin Delaney in 1859 had traveled to African and expressed both back-to-Africa and/or separatist views. Around the same time in 1853, Alexander Crummell made his way to Liberia. However, all of those movements, before and after the American Civil war, including Bishop Turner, who pushed a project in the late 1870s, were attempted and ultimately failed. It was never widely supported by the larger share of black Americans or even activists and/or intellectuals. As was the case with Alexander Crummell who later established the American Negro Academy, along with W.E.B. Du Bois and others, efforts were made to fight for civil and political rights in the U.S. and to vehemently fight against racism and white supremacy from American soil.
As is clear from the above quotes, an early and consistent opposition developed regarding colonization and migration to Africa. The underlying objective and tactic, by whites, even in cases where supposed intentions were good, was support of, or capitulation to, white supremacy: a potential inability, but mostly an unwillingness, to deal with the issues of American Slavery and the after-effects of the institution in the form of the lack of civil and political rights granted to black Americans.
A key point made in the video I posted on this issue, in rejection of separation and integration, was about how the history of the contention(s) ought to be viewed with an eye for the radical tradition of black, American politics. That radical tradition, as was present in the fight to end slavery, was reborn in opposition to the agenda of Booker T. Washington and others. This was led by W.E.B Du Bois.
And, with that, Part 2 will start.