Document Type



Known among the black community of Newport, Rhode Island for the almost 200 year life of their existence, the manuscripts of the Proceedings of the African Union Society, and the Proceedings of the African Benevolent Society have only recently been "discovered" and used by professional historians concerned with illuminating the colonial American experience, especially the colonial black American experience. Presented to the safekeeping of the Colored Union Congregational Church in 1844, where they remained until, that church dissolving in 1963, these proceedings were then handed over to the Newport Historical Society, where they have been housed ever since.

These manuscripts are easily among the most valuable documents of early black Rhode Island life known, for, among other things, they constitute an extremely rare, firsthand account of a wide range of early black Rhode Island concerns, as determined and viewed by the blacks themselves; these papers document serious attempts by such blacks to explore the possibilities for finding and sustaining a place of dignity and respect for themselves, their kin and posterity in a land that often sought to deny them equal human value and status. These proceedings are valuable, also, as they supply a long needed, authentic notation of colonial blacks whose image would challenge the stereotyped image of the early black as childlike, dependent, undeveloped. Such a notion of the colonial black has been long fostered by repeated tailings of the colonial practice of 'Lection Day activities.

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William H. Robinson