The Dissipation Of African Identity In America, 1790-1840: A Residual Effect Of The American Colonization Society On Free People Of African Descent, With An Examination Of Philadelphia Pennsylvania As A Locus Of Activity

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History and Geography


Doctor of Philosophy

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Africans taken from Africa, and their descendants born in the United States, understood themselves to be African well into the nineteenth century when their group self-identity came into question. Time and great geographical distance, as well as the pervasive campaign of white supremacy, which denigrated African life and culture, were effective agents at disconnecting Africans in America from their ancestral homeland. Yet another variable, perhaps less obvious, ushered in a negation of the African self. The American Colonization Society's (ACS) African colonization initiative, beginning in 1817, was directed at and widely opposed by many free people of African descent. The initiative was a significant catalyst in disconnecting many free Africans in America from their African identity. Because the ACS program was inherently racist, many free Africans in America negated the colonization plan and, by default, the natural connection it underscored between Africa and people of African descent. In the midst of the anti-ACS movement, African identity became a liability as it connected Africans in America to the very land the ACS proposed they should return. Hence, many people of African descent decided that connections to Africa, including self-identity, should be severed. These decisions were supported by actions directly linked to the anti-ACS effort. This study seeks to identify and examine the relationship between the anti-ACS campaigns undertaken by many free people of African descent, as a causal factor in the dissipation of African identity in America, circa 1790-1840. The methodology employed includes an examination and analysis of primary documents that consider minutes and proceedings of the 1830-1835 Negro conventions, Pennsylvania charter books of black self-help agencies since 1812, the ACS national organization journal African Repository, the Pennsylvania ACS state organization journal Colonization Record and General Register, and early black newspapers and other sources of primary documents and secondary literature.