SUBMITTED BY: Dr. Peter Murray (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
The call for the convention came from New Bern, N.C., and the assembly included delegations from New Bern, Beaufort, Wilmington, and other parts of the state. The African Americans who lived in the eastern coastal portion of the state had been free longer than those who dwelled in the western and central sections of the state, so the convention may have had more representatives from the coastal areas; also, more African Americans lived in the eastern section. The convention met at the Loyal African Methodist Episcopal Church (A. M. E. Church), and its attendees elected Bishop John W. Hood as President of the Convention. During the event, Hood stated that African Americans were not interested in “exportation, expatriation, colonization and the like.” He emphasized the need for the right to testify in court, to sit on juries, and to serve as lawyers. The right to vote was essential in his opinion.
During their afternoon session, the representatives passed several resolutions written by its Business Committee. The first affirmed their loyalty to the nation and their willingness to defend “the Union against all enemies at home or abroad.” That resolution affirmed that they were “worthy of citizenship among the people of North Carolina.” In other resolutions, they praised the progress the nation was making in “protecting the interests of the colored people of the South,” including the Thirteenth Amendment, then being ratified by the states, and the creation of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, commonly referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau. Another resolution supported the efforts of the Republican Party “to secure to the colored citizens their rights through the action of Congress, against any and all who oppose those rights.”
This convention was the first of its kind in North Carolina. African Americans knew about the political questions facing the state and the nation, and they acted even though President Andrew Johnson’s criteria for allowing southern states back into the Union made no provisions for African Americans. Johnson required only that the eleven states of the Confederacy ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, repeal their ordinances of secession, and renounce all financial debts incurred by these states in support of the Confederacy. Johnson did not require southern states to allow African Americans to vote in elections of state conventions to form new state governments. The State Convention of the Colored People of North Carolina, held in Raleigh on September 29, 1865, dramatically showed that African Americans in North Carolina were engaged in the political process even though there was yet no formal avenue for them to participate.
The convention’s proceedings were published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Oct. 14, 1865. It was republished in 1986 in Phillip S. Foner’s and George E. Walker’s (Eds.) Proceedings of the Black National and State Conventions, 1865-1900 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).
State Convention of the Colored People of North Carolina (1865: Raleigh, NC), “State Convention of the Colored People of North Carolina, Raleigh, September 29, 1865,” Colored Conventions Project Digital Records, accessed October 18, 2021, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/1090.