The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

13.
Speech by J. W. C. Pennington Delivered at Freemasons' Hall, London, England 14 June 1843

J. W. C. Pennington arrived in England during early June 1843 as a Connecticut Anti-Slavery Society delegate to the London World's AntiSlavery Convention (13-20 June). The convention, which assembled at Freemasons' Hall, was attended by a number of other prominent American antislavery figures, including fugitive slave Moses Grandy and New York Vigilance Committee secretary William Johnston. Pennington addressed the assembly at the 14 June morning session, which was chaired by Richard Peek. The session opened with a reading of the previous day's minutes and an exchange on the subject of African missionaries. Pennington later offered remarks as part of a larger discussion of the condition of free blacks in the United States. Like many black visitors to Britain before and after him, Pennington described the northern free black population and its struggle with racial prejudice. ASRL, 21 June 1843; Temperley, British Antislavery, 154-56; I, 24 June 1843; J. F. Johnson, ed., Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention ( London, 1844; reprint, Miami, Fla., 1969), 41-61.

As we 1 are not privileged to present our case before a world's Convention 2 every day in every year, I shall have to beg your indulgence, and even if I should prove tedious, I hope I shall be permitted to proceed, because I regard it of great importance that the prominent facts connected with the condition and prospects of my people should be brought out in a meeting like this. By the last census, that of 1840, 3 it will be seen that there are in the United States 386,235 free persons of colour, of different ages and sects. These are spread over thirty states and territories, in various numbers. The first question which I suppose a distant inquirer would start in regard to the free people of colour is, whether, in the United States, they are civilized. If, by civilization, is meant in general pursuing the same conduct, and following the same avocations that white persons of European descent do, then it must be answered, that they are civilized so far as circumstances and means will permit. We have indeed, as a body, so eagerly adopted all the forms of civilization as far as we can, that we have sometimes been very unkindly accused of aping and imitating the manners of the whites. The wisest and the best of men among the free people of colour felt themselves called upon as early as the year 1830, before there was any great movement among our white friends, to assemble a general Convention, the great object of which was to devise ways and means for the improvement and elevation of their

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