The American Missionary Association (AMA) was a Protestant-based abolitionist group founded on September 3, 1846, in Albany, New York. The main purpose of the organization was abolition of slavery, education of African Americans, promotion of racial equality, and spreading Christian values. Its members and leaders were of both races; The Association was chiefly sponsored by the Congregationalist churches in New England. Starting in 1861, it opened camps in the South for former slaves. It played a major role during the Reconstruction Era in promoting education for blacks in the South by establishing numerous schools and colleges, as well as paying for teachers.
The American Missionary Association was started by members of the American Home Missionary Society (AHMS) and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), who were disappointed that their first organizations refused to take stands against slavery and accepted contributions from slaveholders. From the beginning the leadership was integrated: the first board was made up of 12 men, four of them black. One of its primary objectives was to abolish slavery. The AMA (American Missionary Association) was one of the organizations responsible for pushing slavery onto the national political agenda.
The organization started the American Missionary magazine, published from 1846 through 1934.
Among the AMA's achievements was the founding of anti-slavery churches. For instance, the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy was among the Congregational ministers of the AMA who helped start 115 anti-slavery churches in Illinois before the American Civil War, aided by the strong westward migration of population to that area. Another member, Rev. Mansfield French, an Episcopalian who became a Methodist, helped found Wilberforce University in Ohio.
Members of the AMA began their support of education for blacks before the Civil War, recruiting teachers for the numerous contraband camps that developed in Union-occupied territory in the South during the war. In slaveholding Union states, such as Kentucky, the AMA staffed schools for both the newly emancipated United States Colored Troops and their families, such as at Camp Nelson, now known as Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument. Leading this effort was Rev. John Gregg Fee. 
Rev. French was assigned to Port Royal, South Carolina, and went on a speaking tour with Robert Smalls, who famously escaped enslavement, as well as met with President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, jointly convincing them to allow blacks to serve in the Union military. By war's end, Union forces had organized 100 contraband camps, and many had AMA teachers. The AMA also served the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony (1863–1867). Located on an island occupied by Union troops, the colony was intended to be self-sustaining. It was supervised by Horace James, a Congregational chaplain appointed by the Army as "Superintendent for Negro Affairs in the North Carolina District". The first of 27 teachers who volunteered through the AMA was his cousin, Elizabeth James. By 1864 the colony had more than 2200 residents, and both children and adults filled the classrooms in the several one-room schools, as they were eager for learning. The missionary teachers also evangelized and helped provide the limited medical care of the time.
Further information: Civil rights movement (1865–1896)
The AMA's pace of founding schools and colleges increased during and after the war. Freedmen, historically free blacks (many of whom were of mixed race), and white sympathizers alike believed that education was a priority for the newly freed people. Altogether, "the AMA founded more than five hundred schools and colleges for the freedmen of the South during and after the Civil War, spending more money for that purpose than the Freedmen's Bureau of the federal government."
Among the eleven colleges they founded were Berea College and took over ownership of Atlanta University(1865) now Clark Atlanta University founded by two former slaves; Fisk University, (1866); Hampton Institute (1868) and Tougaloo College (1869); Dillard University, Talladega College, LeMoyne/LeMoyne-Owen College, Tillotson/Huston–Tillotson University, and Avery Normal Institute (1867) (now part of the College of Charleston). Together with the Freedmen's Bureau, the AMA founded Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1867.
In addition, the AMA organized the Freedmen's Aid Society, which recruited northern teachers for the schools and arranged to find housing for them in the South.
In the mid-1870s, white Democrats began to regain control of state legislatures through violence and intimidation at the polls that suppressed Republican voting. The Association expressed disappointment at the failures of the Reconstruction Era but never wavered in opposing disenfranchisement and continued the struggle over the following decades. By the 1870s, the AMA national office had relocated to New York City.
While the AMA became widely known in the United States for its work in opposition to slavery and in support of education for freedmen, it also sponsored and maintained missions in numerous nations overseas. The 19th-century missionary effort was strong in India, China and east Asia. It was strongly supported by Congregational and Christian churches. Over time, the association became most closely aligned with the Congregational Christian Churches, established in 1931 as a union between those two groups of churches.
Most of those congregations became members of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the late 20th century. The AMA maintained a distinct and independent identity until 1999, when a restructuring of the UCC merged it into the Justice and Witness Ministries division.
Its magazine, American Missionary, had a circulation of 20,000 in the 19th century, ten times that of the abolitionist William Garrison's magazine. The Cornell University Library has editions from 1878-1901 accessible online in its Making of America digital library.
The records of the American Missionary Association are housed at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans.
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