Imagining a State of fellow citizens: Early African American politics of publicity in the Black State Conventions

Derrick R. Spires

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This essay examines the Proceedings of the Black State Conventions of the 1840s as political documents central to our understanding of early African American print culture and the role of print circulation, as metaphor and as medium, for defining participatory politics more generally in the early United States. Just as the struggle against slavery and kidnapping generated the national conventions of the 1830s, activism for political rights, especially the suffrage, fueled the state conventions in the 1840s. The very acts of organizing and holding conventions to petition for voting and other rights created a public black civic presence, demonstrating that black citizens could and did conduct themselves as people fully capable of self-determination in a republican government. Moreover, the texts the conventions produced-printed proceedings (including minutes, addresses, petitions, and reports) aimed at state institutions as well as black and white audiences-extended, circulated, and concretized this civic presence via the periodical press and pamphlets. The Proceedings of the Black State Conventions, then, are important not only because of the arguments they make for and about suffrage, but also for the work they do as texts, as performative speech acts that seek to manufacture the very citizenship practices from which the delegates had been excluded.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEarly African American Print Culture
EditorsLara Langer Cohen, Jordan Alexander Stein
Place of PublicationPhiladelphia
PublisherUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780812206296
ISBN (Print)9780812244250, 9780812223347
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameMaterial Texts


  • citizenship
  • political debate
  • African American culture
  • voting
  • voting rights
  • anger
  • Black communities
  • petitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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