Everywhere Is Freedom and Everybody Free
THE CAPITAL TRANSFORMED
On Thursday, August 14, 1862, an extraordinary meeting convened in Washington’s Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Washington. The previous Sunday, President Abraham Lincoln, through a representative, had put out word that he wanted to meet with a small group of black Washingtonians. Amid great excitement and curiosity about the purpose of the meeting, African American church congregations selected delegations to convene at Union Bethel days later. Going into the meeting, attendees were unsure what the president wished to discuss or even whether he would be present.
Lincoln was not in Union Bethel that day. It fell to his representative, James Mitchell, a white minister from Indiana, to inform the group that the president wanted to discuss African American emigration out of the United States. Like many other Americans, Lincoln was pessimistic that black and white people could live together peacefully under conditions of equality, and he had long seen black emigration as a potential solution to that problem. In the preceding months, the federal government had begun to lean toward colonization as policy. Congress had placed $600,000 at Lincoln’s disposal for settling newly freed African Americans outside the United States, of which $100,000 was earmarked for residents of the capital. James Mitchell’s announcement in Union Bethel suggested that the president was ready to begin spending that money.
The historic implications of the invitation itself were clear. In the midst of a civil war capable of destroying slavery, Lincoln’s request implicitly recognized African Americans as a part of the American public to be consulted, not simply acted upon. Yet those who assembled in Union Bethel had grave doubts about the president’s purposes, and many were reluctant to comply with his request. First, they were skeptical about the government’s turn to colonization