December 28 - Good Idea / Bad Idea

Posted on December 28, 2017

It's not so easy to sort out good ideas from bad ones.

And when you consider the mixed motivations behind ideas - wow! What a mess of good-and-bad you generally get!

Once upon a time, in a young nation increasingly divided over slavery, a man who was part African American and part Native American had an idea. He knew how difficult life in America was for non-white people - although he himself was a successful businessman! 

Paul Cuffee built a shipping empire, but he also was an activist. He was involved in the abolition movement - the efforts to end slavery in America - and he built the first racially-integrated school in Westport, Massachusetts. 

Here was his idea: Let's settle freed American slaves in Africa. 

Remember, Cuffee had an African father and was passionate about ending slavery and making life in America better for African Americans. I can see not an iota of bad motivations in him.

Cuffee didn't just sit around thinking his idea - he talked about it to other free black people and to members of both the British government and the American government. He was able to create enough support that he took 38 black Americans to the British colony of Sierra Leone.

The very next year Cuffee died, so he did no further work on his idea. But the idea didn't die.

On this date in 1816, a group called the American Colonization Society was founded. It, too, supported the migration of free African Americans to Africa.

This organization seemed to be headed by only white men. I looked to see how free black Americans greeted the startup of the ACS, but I couldn't see much support. Instead, I read that many free black people were against the Society and skeptical of its motivations and its goals.

No wonder! The group was made up of an unlikely blend: White abolitionists who were staunchly against slavery, who believed that the enslavement of people was evil and should be eliminated from the nation and the world, on the one hand, and white slave owners who stood by the institution of slavery, on the other!

No matter whether they were pro-slavery or anti-slavery, the white people who started the American Colonization Society were worried about free black people in America. Some white folks were rightly concerned about the prejudice black people faced and, they were sure, would continue to face. Some white folks were anxious that the presence of free black people would encourage enslaved people to run away or revolt. Some white folks were certain that black people were inferior in intellect and in morals, and they didn't want a bunch of them integrating into white society. Even many of the abolitionists were racist in the extreme.

The ACS helped more than 13,000 Americans emigrate to Africa - and the colony they helped found became the independent nation of Liberia. (Read more about Liberia here and here.)

No comments:

Post a Comment