History was made exactly 190 years ago here in Philadelphia from September 20-24, 1830 when 40 free and fugitive Black delegates from seven states publicly held the first conference of its kind, thereby giving birth to what came to be known as the National Negro Convention Movement (NNCM). Its goal, as documented in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, was “to address the hostility, discrimination, exclusion, and violence against African Americans by whites in northern cities.”
As noted by University of Washington professor Shirley J. Yee in “Black Women Abolitionists, A Study in Activism,” this and subsequent meetings of the NNCM provided “an organizational structure through which Black men could maintain a distinct Black leadership and pursue Black abolitionist goals.”
The Black men who led the NNCM were courageous and revolutionary. But it wasn’t just brothers. Although sexism (which I and other Black men today must acknowledge and end) caused Black women to be generally ignored in the NNCM, two of them stood fast and demanded that their voices be heard and their presence be felt. Elizabeth Armstrong and Rachel Cliff, alone amongst the 38 male delegates in Philadelphia in 1830, were powerful and heroic forces in the movement’s activism and successes. Clearly, more Black women should have been invited and permitted to actively participate because they had already proven themselves as leaders in the forefront of the abolitionist, nationalist, human rights, and civil rights movements.