|Cleveland Freedmen's Aid Society
An Early Beginning - The Anti-Slavery Societies
The Cleveland Anti-Slavery Society was organized in 1833. Its constitution called "to procure the speedy abolition of"
slavery. Its membership included businessmen, professionals, blacks and women. The society opposed both
colonization and force to end slavery. The members proposed "enlightening the public mind, in regards to the true
character of Slavery." A May 1833 speech by Chas. B. Storrs, the controversial abolitionist president of Hudson's
Western Reserve College, apparently prompted formation of the Cleveland Anti-Slavery Society: the constitution
called it an "auxiliary to the `Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society.'"
Dr. David Long, Solomon L. Severance, John A. Foot, Sherlock J. Andrews, and Henry F. Brayton were the leaders
of the Cleveland Anti-Slavery Society. Persons signing the constitution became a voting member. Among early
signers were at least 2 blacks: John Malvin a future lecturer for the society and Stephen Griffith. At least 30 local
women were represented among the 131 constitution signatures. By Apr. 1836, the Cleveland Anti-Slavery Society
had 70 members, by the following year, 200. At the July 4 1837 annual meeting held at First Presbyterian (Old
Stone) Church, Foote, Severance, and John M. Sterling--all members of the Cleveland society--led a meeting that
created the Cuyahoga County Anti-Slavery Society which seems to have replaced the Cleveland Society.
The society in its Constitution lists the goal of the society as: "The object of this society the entire abolition of slavery
throughout the U.S. and the elevation of our colored brethren to their proper rank as men." It also met at the
Wesleyan Methodist and A.M.E. Churches. John A. Foote presided over the organizational meeting of the county
group and became a vice-president; Edward Wade of Brooklyn was president; John M. Sterling, president in 1841,
helped draw up the constitution; Henry F. Brayton served as recording secretary; and Solomon L Severance was
School Fund Society
1835 School Fund Society was established to ensure educational opportunities for African American children in Ohio.
It was a state organization of black citizens whose main objective was to find ways to ensure educational
opportunities for black children. The group was formed in 1836 by a group of Clevelanders. Ohio state law prohibited
blacks or mulatto children in public schools.
The School society opened schools for African Americans in Springfield, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. The
School Fund Society also petitioned the state legislature to change the law.
John Malvin (1795-1880) was an operative on the Underground Railroad and an ardent member of anti-slavery and
abolitionist causes. Born in Dumfries, Virginia of a free mother and enslaved father, Malvin was apprenticed at an
early age to learn carpentry and taught himself to read and write. In 1827, he moved to Cincinnati where he became
an ordained preacher and an activist in the cause of freedom. In 1831, with his wife Harriet, he moved to Cleveland
where he became a charter member of the First Baptist Church, a sawmill operator, and captain and owner of the
canal boat Auburn.
John Malvin later owned the lake vessel Grampus and transported limestone from Kelly's Island to Cleveland. Malvin
was a founding member of the School Fund Society that established schools for African Americans throughout Ohio.
As an abolitionist, Malvin personally helped at least five slaves escape to freedom in Canada. At the outbreak of the
Civil War, he recruited African Americans for service in the Union.
The Cuyahoga Anti-Slavery Society of the late 1850s
On 10 Jan. 1859, a new county society called the Cuyahoga Anti-Slavery Society, met at the African Methodist
Episcopal Church on Bolivar St. This society was an outgrowth of the Colored American League formed in 1850 that
was organized at the Ohio State Anti-Slavery in 1853. The Cuyahoga Society was a branch of the Ohio State
Anti-Slavery organization. Its first meeting was at the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Bolivar St., with Rev. S.
T. Jones presiding. On 7 Feb. 1859, the executive board of the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society held its first quarterly
meeting in Cleveland's Forest City Hall. Charles Langston presided, and Clevelanders Chas. H. Langston (secretary),
John Malvin, and Joseph D. Harris were appointed general lecturers. The Cuyahoga branch donated $5 to the state
society, and a local collection raised $13.30 more. By the fall of 1859, the state society had established headquarters
at the corner of Ontario and Michigan Sts. in Cleveland and was circulating 2 petitions throughout Ohio. One called
upon the state legislature to repeal the state's black laws and to eliminate racial distinctions from the state
constitution. The other called for a state law to protect every resident's "right to Liberty, and which shall effectually
abolish kidnapping and man stealing on the soil of Ohio." The Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society remained active until
the Civil War, with black Clevelanders taking prominent roles. At its annual meeting in Jan. 1860, John Langston
continued to lead the organization, Malvin and Chas. Langston were reappointed lecturers, and Cleveland doctor
Robert B. Leach joined the executive board.
Fugitives' Aid Society later the Cleveland Freedman's Aid Society
1859 Cleveland Freedman's Aid Society founded as the Fugitives' Aid Society; initially took a stand against slavery,
assisted with the underground railroad, and gave aid to escaped slaves in safe territory; after the Emancipation
Proclamation it sent aid to former slaves in the South and emphasized educational efforts. The Fugitives' Aid Society
had two purposes. The first was its public stand, to assist slaves who had escaped to safe territory. This served as a
convenient disguise for its second purpose, assisting slaves to escape via the underground railroad and supplying
them with food, clothing, and money. The movement was so successful and protected that it advertised in the local
By 1863 the organization was primarily concerned with collecting donations of money and clothing to send to former
slaves in the South. At the time of their fourth annual meeting in 1863, the society had 127 active members. It created
the annual Freedmen's Festival that was attended by African American citizens of Cleveland. Frederick Douglass was
the first speaker for the celebration. The last festival was held Oct. 1873.
By the end of the Civil War the organization began to place a greater emphasis on educational efforts, as did similar
organizations. The Freedmen's Aid Society appears to have faded out of existence about 1872. The similar
organizations, some of which had primarily African American membership, appear to have lasted no more than an
additional 2 or 3 years. Among these organizations were the Freedmen's Aid Commission, the Freedmen's Bureau,
the Freedmen's Relief Assn., and the Freedmen's Aid and Education Society.
The organization canvass field was Northern Ohio, Northeastern Indiana, Northwestern Pennsylvania, Southern
Michigan. They supported schools in Alabama and Georgia. In 1867 this society would become part of the American
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