All posts by Chuck Fager

1791: When America Had a Real King – William Bartram Met Him

Bartram & The Seminole King From Bartram’s Travels, published 1791 Alachua Indians

AFTER crossing over this point or branch of the marshes, we entered a noble forest, the land level, and the soil fertile, being a loose, dark brown, coarse sandy loam, on a clay or marley foundation; the forests were Orange groves, overtoped by grand Magnolias, Palms, Live Oaks . . . with various kinds of shrubs and herbacious plants . . . .

alachua-savanna-better-Bartram
Alachua Savana — in Florida, the land of the “Siminoles” (Seminoles), sketched by Bartram

We were chearfully received in this hospitable shade, by various tribes of birds,

Continue reading 1791: When America Had a Real King – William Bartram Met Him

David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Another Eminent Pacifist leader Is Gone: David McReynolds
 
I only sort of knew David McReynolds, but he hovered significantly in the background of peace work during my apprenticeship in the Vietnam years.
David McReynolds, pacifist organizer stalwart, October 25, 1929- August 17, 2018.

My most vivid memory of David was not a personal encounter, but in the pages of WIN Magazine, a “radical pacifist” journal published by the War Resisters League. In 1969 he joined several other elder eminences in coming out there. These were the first confrontations I had had with homosexuals as sympathetic figures and colleagues.

 His article was more personal than political, often embarrassed about how much his struggles in and out of the closet had cut into his driving impulse to organize nonviolent action against war and imperialism. Its candor and humility cut right through my unthinking, reflexive homophobia, pointing a way forward from it which I have worked ever since to follow.

Continue reading David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Aretha, Her Father & Her Music: Not Far From The Tree

Where did Aretha Franklin’s unforgettable vocal power come from?
I glimpsed a big part of the answer one summer night in 1968.

It was Friday, June 21, in Washington DC: Leaders of the Poor Peoples Campaign, trying to fulfill Dr. King’s last dream, had built a shantytown, called Resurrection City, on the national mall. But the camp, and the campaign, were mired in various difficulties. Yet on that Friday evening, some participants got a welcome, memorable spell of relief. I was there with a tape recorder, and this is the heart of what I saw and heard:

From Uncertain Resurrection, the Poor Peoples Washington Campaign;

Rev. C. L. Franklin, preaching

Friday night a Campaign mass meeting was held at St. Stephen’s Baptist Church, where the church was full and the crowd unusually boisterous. The featured preacher of the evening was Rev. C. L. Franklin of Detroit. Rev. Franklin is the father of Miss Aretha Franklin, a very successful soul singer, and he was an old friend of Dr. King.

“I hope I can get somebody to pray with me tonight,” he began, warming them up, “because you know, I’m a Negro preacher, and I like to talk to people, and have people talk back to me.”  Continue reading Aretha, Her Father & Her Music: Not Far From The Tree

Spike Lee vs the Klan; and When (Many) Quakers also Loved the Klan

Watching Spike Lee’s new film BlackkKlansman yesterday, it was evident that the director/provocateur has skillfully exploited a current of widespread cultural anxiety, which the Klan once embodied on a mass scale. The cinematic result is a timely, skillful and often gripping entertainment.

As a call to social action, however, I think it largely misfires. In organizational terms, the KKK in 2018 is not that big a threat: groups are small, and they dissipate much energy in infighting. In December, 2016, for instance, a Klan “victory  rally” was  announced for North Carolina (the “victory” being the outcome of the 2016 presidential election) . The event was dogged by militant protesters and dissolved in confusion before it even started. Yet there was one casualty: a Klan “leader,” Richard Dillon, said he was beaten and stabbed, by two other Klan “leaders” at a post-rally “meeting” that  devolved into a brawl. The attackers were arrested. Continue reading Spike Lee vs the Klan; and When (Many) Quakers also Loved the Klan

What Do You See In What You see? Ask Friend William Bartram

Trying To See Like William Bartram

[It’s not easy to keep up with my fellow-traveler/Spirit Guide, Friend William Bartram. He just can’t stay on the beaten path. . . .]

But here he is again, talking about plants, and especially trees. And one kind of tree jumped out at me from his list, the Live Oak. That’s because I’ve seen and been captivated by some magnificent specimens thereof, in a cemetery in Alabama.SM04-Liveoak-Selma-red

There’s lots of human history in that graveyard. But we’re gonna skip all that here, and just dwell on the chlorophyllic history. The place is only a few acres, but I think I could wander in it for hours, maybe days.]

Continue reading What Do You See In What You see? Ask Friend William Bartram

Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials

Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.

Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955,  after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing.  Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.

In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.

A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.

This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.

The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.

Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the  historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral service, March 3, 1965. His death sparked the Selma-Montgomery march, which helped win the Voting Rights act.

Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.

It too has been hit  by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.

Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. James Fowler, right.

The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.

Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.

 

Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend

William Bartram: Divergent Friend

I’ve taken a fancy to do some traveling for the dog Days this year. I plan to join William Bartram, an independent-minded Quaker naturalist and artist, in a  journey through much of the southeast U.S.

WilliamBartramThis is not the Southeast of today, but that of 1773, so technically there wasn’t a U.S. yet; whatever. Bartram spent four years wandering the Southeast, drawing plants and animals, maps, and doing sketch portraits of Indians he visited with, and he visited with many.

I first noticed Bartram a few years ago, and prepared a series  of posts about him & his solitary exploring journeys for times of reflection. I call him a “Divergent Friend” because he went his own way, following his own leading.  He was not a “rebel” or a troublemaker; yet he was hardly typical or “normal” either.

Consider: at home, a revolution was brewing; slavery was a spreading plague; many diseases threatened. But Bartram was drawn away from all that, the “activism” and the debates, into the natural world: seeking out creatures without voices, and  territories not yet claimed by his ancestral “civilization.” He’s remembered today (by those who remember him) as a pioneer. Leadings are like that: not always driven by the “news of the day,” with significance that may not  be discernible until many years after they were followed.

Continue reading Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial. Continue reading Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

New Split, Old Issue: Same Sex Marriage Rends Wilmington YM

An Interview with Stephen Angell. Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion.

NOTE: Wilmington Yearly Meeting comprises three Quarterly Meetings, two in southwest Ohio, and a third in eastern Tennessee, three hundred miles south. The group is mostly pastoral and programmed, and has been affiliated with Friends United Meeting.

A Friendly Letter (AFL):  Steve Angell (SA), thanks for doing this. So give us the scoop: has there been yet another yearly meeting split? Which one, when, and about what?

SA: The topic today is Wilmington Yearly Meeting, one of the smallest North American yearly meetings in Friends United Meeting. Its congregations are located in southwestern Ohio and Tennessee. ( A history of WYM to 1940 is online here.) The controversy is longstanding, and the background to the current difficulties is covered in Quaker Theology #30-31.

But the current intense phase arose in September 2016, when Cincinnati Friends Meeting, a semi-programmed meeting, held a wedding under its care for two women.

This event stirred up controversy over a set of issues that we’ve seen before, including Biblical interpretation, the authority of the yearly meeting, and the autonomy of monthly meetings.

Continue reading New Split, Old Issue: Same Sex Marriage Rends Wilmington YM

Earlham, The Grinch, & Sections “M” & “N”

At Earlham College, it’s going to be a tense Christmas this year, especially for faculty and staff.

That’s because, whatever goodies Santa brings, the Grinch will be close behind, snatching away the good cheer and hopes for a happy new year in 2019.

The  Earlham Grinch will be in disguise, but the masquerade won’t fool anybody: the Grinch will be dropping pink slips down chimneys (or for those  gone chimney-free, an email inbox will do).

And while today it may be sweltering summer, with winter holidays seemingly a universe away, Christmas is still on the minds of many around Earlham. That’s because the campus Grinch is already on the loose there, and has
claimed his first, highest-profile victim. Continue reading Earlham, The Grinch, & Sections “M” & “N”