World in View: The past is prologue

January 30, 2017

From the January-February 2017 issue of News & Letters

The original Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, built in 1794. Photo:

The first mass Black protest meeting in the U.S. was held at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, in January 1817—200 years ago. The meeting was called in support of a plan by the white-run American Colonization Society that would have shipped free Blacks to Africa, while leaving those enslaved in place. Headed by George Washington’s nephew, and supported by ranking politicians and others who profited by slavery, it would have strengthened that evil institution.

While a number of prominent Black clergymen were taken in by the scheme, and so called the meeting, the 3,000 free Black Philadelphians who attended saw through it and denounced the plan so strongly that the clergymen were convinced to change their views as well.

Those Black Philadelphians don’t have their faces on our money, like the slavemasters still do. But their will to freedom and truth deserves special remembrance as a new generation of racists and con artists, nostalgic for those bad old days, move their dirty laundry into the highest offices.

—Gerry Emmett

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