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Book Chapter

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Department 1

Africana Studies

Department 2



During the Revolutionary War and the first decades of the early U.S. Republic, as free people of color sought to define their place in the new nation, they expressed little connection to an American nationality. But antebellum black leaders later articulated a powerful vision of Africans and Americans. As slaves and free blacks had done during the Revolutionary era, they based this African American identity in part upon a biblical view of human rights and a natural rights philosophy, but they also buttressed black identity formation by making a rights discourse the fulcrum of their argument for full inclusion in the polity. Coinciding with the rise of black parades as a public and confrontational means of asserting African American citizenship, black leaders constructed an African American identity intimately connected to legal notions of citizenship and rights stemming from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, thereby finding another means of publicly reinforcing to both white and black Americans as African American identity. Toward the close of the antebellum era, William C. Nell put the capstone on black self-definition as African American by constructing a patriotic black heritage. [excerpt]

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