Marking Pennsylvania History

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."

Forten, and others, believed that such a movement would purge the nation of opponents to slavery and thereby prolong slavery in America.

The Philadelphians adopted a resolution:

"Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first cultivators of the wilds of America, we their descendants feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil.... Resolved, That we never will separate ourselves voluntarily from the slave population in this country; they are our brethren by the ties of consanguinity, of suffering, and of wrongs...."

Before long, Philadelphia's three ministers who had spoken out for immigration - Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and John Gloucester - joined with Forten and friends.

Philadelphia's African-American community had chosen home.

- Kenneth FInkel, Executive Director of WHYY's Arts & Culture Service

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