In the decades before the Civil War, several thousand black Americans did emigrate to Liberia with the aid of the Colonization Society. Some were slaves emancipated by their owners on the condition that they depart, while others left voluntarily, motivated by a desire to spread Christianity in Africa or to enjoy rights denied them in the United States. Having experienced “the legal slavery of the South and the social slavery of the North,” wrote one emigrant on leaving for Liberia, he knew he could “never be a free man in this country.”
But most African-Americans adamantly opposed the idea of colonization. In fact, the formation of the American Colonization Society galvanized free blacks to claim their rights as Americans. Early in 1817, some 3,000 free blacks assembled in Philadelphia for the first national black convention. Their resolutions insisted that blacks were Americans, entitled to the same freedom and rights enjoyed by whites. “We have no wish to separate from our present homes,” they declared. In the years that followed, a number of black organizations removed the word “African” from their names to eliminate a possible reason for being deported from the land of their birth.