Patrick Rael writes:
“In 1837, leading African American thinkers debated the question in the black press. At issue was whether or not it was right for institutions designed for black uplift to close their doors to whites. On the one hand stood William Whipper, a Philadelphia activist and founder of the bi-racial American Moral Reform Society (AMRS). With him was Robert Purvis, another leading light in Philadelphia’s black abolitionist circles. Both argued against “complexional distinctions,” or the principle that blacks ought to act alone to further their interests. Squared off against the Philadelphians were newspaper editorSamuel Cornish of New York, Henry Highland Garnet, another outspoken black New Yorker, and William J. Watkins, a free black teacher from Baltimore….
“Watkins illustrated the position through a story: on a ship at sea, two men, one white and one black, fall overboard. Five passengers, four white and one black, rush to help. The four white passengers, being prejudiced, all reach for the white man. The black passenger runs to the rescue, stretching out not one hand to the white victim and one to the black, but both to the black man — the one who, “under the circumstances, most needs help.” None of this required “the least want of compassion for the white man….””