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In the months after the end of the war, African Americans held meetings throughout eastern North Carolina to discuss issues important to the former slaves. At such a meeting in New Bern, it was decided that a statewide convention should be held. Delegates were chosen and representatives met in Raleigh, September 29-October 3. In attendance were 106 men from thirty-four of the state’s eighty-nine counties. A decision was made to make it an open convention since all members did not have credentials. According to the proceedings, some “had as much as they could do to bring themselves, having to escape from their homes stealthily by night, and walked long distances, so as to avoid observation, such was the opposition manifested to the movement in some localities.” Analysis of the group shows that a high percentage were the “black elite,” literate property owners, many of them ministers. Journalist Sidney Andrews described the setting:
Original Date Cast:
The Convention met on Friday last, and terminated its labors today, after a four days’ session. The sittings were held in the African Church of this city. It is a plain, white, wooden building, with floor accommodations for about 300 persons and gallery accommodations for about 100 more. Its floor is carpeted and its seats cushioned. The noticeable feature is a large and elegant and life-like plaster-of-Paris bust of Mr. Lincoln.
James Walker Hood of New Bern was elected president. Hood stressed that “equal rights before the law” should be the convention’s watchwords. The delegates pressed for rights to testify in court, to serve as jurors, to act as counsel, and to vote. “These are the rights we will contend for, these the rights we will have, God being out helper,” Hood concluded to applause. The church site was the northwest corner of Edenton and Harrington Streets. The congregation, established in 1849, has since 1884 been known as St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. The original structure, shown on an 1872 map of the city, was in use until early in the twentieth century.
Sidney Andrews, The South Since the War (1866)
Philip S. Foner and George E. Walker, eds., Proceedings of the Black National and State Conventions, 1865-1900 (1986)
C. N. Drie, "Bird’s Eye View Map of Raleigh" (1872)
Roberta Sue Alexander, North Carolina Faces the Freedmen (1985)
Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina (1983)