Herb Boyd (61349)

In the 1830s, mainly as a response to slavery, Black abolitionists in the North began to hold meetings under the banner of the “National Negro Convention Movement.” For more than a generation, the convention movement centered its activism on ending slavery, but within these assemblies there was always simmering discord between the moderate and radical members on the issue of strategy and tactics.

The division in the movement reached a breaking point in 1843 during the meeting in Buffalo, N. Y. Among the 70 delegates attending were Frederick Douglass, Williams Wells Brown and Henry Highland Garnet. Garnet’s speech, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States,” in which he called for open rebellion came within one vote of being endorsed by the convention.

Basically, this vote was a showdown between Garnet and Douglass, and the great statesman carried the day. The vote put the brakes on the militant tendency in the movement and the Civil War put an end to the convention movement itself.

We need to revive some of the potent unity of the movement without any of the destructive division.

I raise this return to the past after witnessing the way the cherished 13th Congressional District, so long the province of African-Americans, is now in the hands of a Dominican-American. Adriano Espaillat’s victory can be attributed to two factors: the redrawing of district lines several years ago and the three African-American candidates who took the lion’s share of the vote, thereby minimizing Assemblyman Keith Wright’s chance to win the race and replace retiring Rep. Charles B. Rangel.

One answer to this dilemma is the creation of a Harlem Political Convention in which a plebiscite vote would determine a candidate with the backing of the community. Clearly, this vote would not obviate the participation of other Black candidates, but it would present a solid, vetted contender and possibly discourage others.

This plebiscite would occur months before the actual primary to give the chosen candidate time to marshal a campaign. In effect, the candidate would be drafted by the community.

Such action should not be seen as disparaging the Dominican-Americans or any other ethnic group. It’s merely an idea to consolidate and unify the Black vote to ensure that any notion of “political gentrification” is nullified.

Moreover, this convention could be not only a revocation of the past but also a template for other predominantly African-American communities across the country that have watched the erosion of Black leadership.