“Black Founders: The Free Black Community in the Early Republic” examines the activities of newly-freed African Americans in the North as they struggled to forge organizations and institutions to promote their burgeoning communities and to attain equal rights in the face of slavery and racism. Leaders emerged—many of them former slaves—who worked to organize independent churches, schools, and fraternal and educational associations, and to champion blacks’ inclusion as equal citizens in the American landscape. Deeply spiritual people, they held close the tenets of egalitarian Christianity and the affirmation in the Declaration of Independence of the unalienable right to liberty. They were the most consistent voices for multiracial democracy in the new republic, and their words and deeds helped inspire a vigorous American antislavery movement.


The exhibition ranges in time from the years after the Revolution up to 1830, when the first national convention of African Americans brought together blacks from all over the North to consider a national program to advance their rights and sharpen their campaign against slavery. Although the exhibition includes African Americans from all over the United States, our primary focus is on the Philadelphia black community, the largest of the northern free black communities during this period.


Thanks to the American Antiquarian Society, the Antoinette Westfal College of Media Arts at Drexel University, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and President’s House Philadelphia for lending to our exhibition. And special thanks to The Albert M. Greenfield Foundation for its generous support of our Program in African American History, of which this exhibition is a part.