Choosing Home

In January 1817, James Forten and other leaders of the African-American community called a meeting at Mother Bethel Church on Sixth Street. Would Philadelphia's African-American community immigrate to Africa? Nearly 3,000 attended and heard the arguments presented by the newly formed American Colonization Society. Three ministers, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and John Gloucester, spoke in favor of immigration.

Forten knew the pulse of the crowd. He called for a voice vote. Not a single "yea" was uttered. When he called for those who opposed the proposition, one tremendous "NO!" shook the building as if to "bring down the walls." A few days later, Forten reported to the movement leadership: "There was not one soul that was in favor of going to Africa." [Read more...]

Joel Rose, Producer and Editor
Viet Le, Rachael Berenguer and Jennifer Lynn, Associate Producers
Elisabeth Perez-Luna, Executive Producer
Kenneth Finkel, Executive Director, Arts & Culture Service

Funding was provided by The William Penn Foundation.

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Marking Pennsylvania History

ExplorePAHistory.comJames Forten
In the years before the Civil War, Pennsylvania had the largest free African-American population of any state. Many free blacks in Philadelphia used their time and money to support the Underground Railroad, and the fight to end slavery. WHYY's Joel Rose has the story of one such businessman, James Forten. [Listen]

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