Uriah Boston's Activism
Uriah Boston was a very promient public speaker during his lifetime.
Uriah's first known public speech came on August 1, 1840, when he read the Declaration of Independence at a Poughkeepsie rally celebrating the anniversary of emancipation of slaves in the British colonies. This became a key holiday for African-Americans, as they used the day to celebrate freedom, challenge continued American oprression, and advocate for emancipation in the United States. He would also speak at the anniversary celebrations the following year.
Uriah was also an agent that worked towards getting subscribers for an African-American newspaper called, The Colored American.
In August 1840, a New York State Colored Convention was held, and Uriah Boston acted as the delegate from Poughkeepsie. The convention advocated for the right to vote for free African-Americans. During the meeting, Boston participated in a debate about the required amount of property that should be needed to vote.
The following year, the same convention was held in Troy, New York. Following the convention, Boston returned to Poughkeepsie and announced a resolution critical of the property requirement for voting rights.
When attending a convention in New York City that started on October 18th, 1841, Boston gave a "thrilling speech" and was "frequently interrupted by the audience, by loud and long continued cheering." Charles Reason (the first African-American professor hired by NYCC) was one of the organizers of this convention.
Later in the 1850s, Boston attended the 1853 National Convention of Colored People in Rochester. He participated in debates over education and labor. At this time, he was nominated to be a member of the State Council of Colored Men. In January of 1854, he then attended a meeting of the State Council in Albany.
Locally in Poughkeepsie, Boston also helped develop the Dutchess County Suffrage Association in 1855. In addition, he campaigned for temperance through the Deleware Temperance Union Reform Association where Boston served as President.
Boston and Frederick Douglass wrote to each other many times throughout the years, as shown in issues of Frederick Douglass' Paper. However, Boston did not agree with Douglass on many of his views.
Uriah Boston, in particular, disagreed with other African-American leaders about the causes of prejudice and racism. He believed that white Americans should not be blamed for their prejudices, but rather Africa and Africans were at fault. Boston argued that "when two races are thus brought in contact, there must of necessity be an exhibition of prejudice on the part of the dominant race, whatever be the color of the subject race." Boston believed that the only way for prejudice and racism in America to stop was if the continent of Africa were to develop and grow beyond its "degraded" condition. When asked if this prejudice could end, Boston said, "doubtless it can, and will be removed; but it will require a long time...the elevation of the African race must be the result of the elevation of the national character of Africa." Boston, in other words, claimed that the Africans were not elevated enough to be treated as equals. This was a very controversial thing to say considering Boston's race and leadership role within the African-American community.
Elsewhere, Boston rejected the label of "African," at the time adopted and embraced by many political and spiritual leaders. Boston did not believe in the idea of "African" schools and "African" churches. He believed in "American" schools and churches. His views on Africa's supposed degredation, as described above, must have led him to this view about black American identity.
Uriah Boston and Frederick Douglass also disagreed about the barber business. Boston claimed that Frederick Douglass attacked the haircutting profession, claiming that Douglass stated that the trade was "derogatory to the interests of the colored race" and encouraged "a servile character." This prompted Boston to defend his occupation by saying that barbers were "as intelligent and respectable as any other class of business men."
1. The Colored American, September 5, 1840.
2. The Colored American, July 25, 1840 and August 27, 1841.
3. The Colored American, September 12, 1840.
4. The Colored American, September 11, 1840.
5. The Colored American, October 13, 1841.
6. Frederick Douglass' Paper, July 15, 1853 and October 28, 1853 and February 3, 1854.
7. Frederick Douglass' Paper, October 19, 1855.
8. Hudson Daily Star, July 4, 1851. For more on Boston's activism, see Michael E. Groth, Slavery and Freedom in the Mid-Hudson Valley (Albany: SUNY Press, 2017).
9. Uriah Boston, "Prejudice Against the African Race," Frederick Douglass Paper, January 19, 1855. For more on Boston's views about African identity, see Patrick Rael, Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), p. 237.
10. Uriah Boston, "Letter From Uriah Boston," Frederick Douglass Paper, April 20, 1855.
11. Frederick Douglass' Paper, April 22, 1853. On his defense of barbers, see also Quincy T. Mills, Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), p. 55.