[Excerpt] Who was this Amos Webber who assumed such a prominent role in this public, regional celebration of the black presence in American life? That he was a veteran was clear, but that alone did not account for his prominent position in that day's events. Certainly James Monroe Trotter, the eminent musician, author, and politician, William H. Carney, and William Dupree were all more widely known in the black North. How did a man such as Amos Webber, unknown beyond his own circle, the recipient of no awards or editorials in the local or national press, achieve such prominence in May 1886? Was this an extraordinary moment whose shining aura all but obliterated the previous sixty years of common routines? Or did his involvement that May reflect a singular role, but one that emerged from and reflected a lifetime of organizational activism and public political commitment?
In the biography that follows, I have tried to explore as many of those clues as possible. In the process I have come to see that, for all of his lack of national renown, Amos Webber was a lifelong activist among the black residents he lived with in both Philadelphia and Worcester. His public commitments reflected a moral vision that insisted on both individual rectitude and social justice. Over time he claimed as his own a very specific understanding of what it meant to be an American. With fellow blacks he rescued fugitives, fought Confederates, and demanded full civil and political rights. With them he built institutions designed to provide internal structure and direction for a black population confronted with frequent, intense antagonism from whites. It was also in this collective setting that Webber struggled to understand the persistent, complex pain inherent in being both black and American.