On January 15, 1817, a group of some of the most prominent African-American leaders called a public meeting at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, which had at that time one of the largest communities of free blacks in the United States. They had intended to support a plan for settling American blacks in Africa. But the audience of supposed supporters vociferously disagreed. They saw themselves as American citizens, and had no desire to go to an Africa which they had never seen.
My guest Christopher Bonner argues that African-Americans did not seize onto American citizenship; they actually created it. Citizenship in the early nineteenth century was a malleable concept. African-Americans took advantage of that, and by contributing to the developing legal and political definition of citizenship were an essential part of transforming the legal order of the republic.
Christopher Bonner is Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship, which is the focus of our conversation today.