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John Brown Russwurm


In New York City, Abdul Rahman became a good friend of John Russwurm, who since 1827 had been editor of Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper in America printed, edited and owned by African Americans. The son of a white Jamaican merchant and an unknown black mother, John Brown Russwurm was at the forefront of many things: He attended Maine's Bowdoin College, where he was a classmate and friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne and was also chosen to present the commencement address in 1826; the following year he became the third African American to graduate from college in the United States.

Although initially an opponent of the American Colonization Society, arguing that it was a strategy to remove free blacks from the United States and thus solidify the institution of slavery, Russwurm nonetheless befriended Abdul Rahman and was profoundly influenced by him. Indeed, after meeting the prince, Russwurm himself began to consider immigrating to Liberia. He described the change in his thinking in an article in Freedom's Journal in March 1829: "In the bosom of the most enlightened community on the globe, we are ignorant and degraded; under the most republican government, we are denied all the rights and privileges of citizens; and what is still worse, we see no probability, that we as a community will ever make it . . . to rise from our ignorance and degradation. . . . We consider it mere waste of words to talk of ever enjoying citizenship in this country." (cited in Young, 108, from 3/23/1829)

John Brown Russwurm

When Abdul Rahman left the city, Russwurm wrote a bittersweet farewell in Freedom's Journal: "Abdul Rahman came among us as a stranger, but he departs from our city with the well wishes of thousands. "New York was not to be Russworm's city much longer: He was soon to follow in the footsteps of his new friend, crossing back over the same ocean that had brought his ancestors to slavery. Having changed his stance on the American Colonization Society, much to the chagrin of other African American activists of the time, Russworm emigrated to Liberia in 1829, where he served as colonial secretary for the ACS and eventually as governor of the Maryland Section of the colony.

Freedom's Journal

Click below to listen to an excerpt from an article published by John Brown Russwurm in Freedom's Journal:

Audio File: John Brown Russwurm can not be played.

For further information:

The Russwurm African American Center at Bowdoin College
Russwurm's Commencement Address, Bowdoin College, 1826

Sandra Sandiford Young, "John Brown Russwurm's Dilemma: Citizenship or Emigration?" In Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism, ed. Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer, 90-113 (New York: New Press, 2006).

Winston James, The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851 (New York: NYU Press, 2010).