Category Archives: Black & White & Other Colors

Jimmie Lee Jackson: One Who Went Before

Jimmie Lee Jackson: One Who Went Before

If I could, I’d add another stone to the crowded cemetery rows here, bearing the name of Jimmie Lee Jackson. He was shot by an Alabama State Trooper in 1965, and died several days later.

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The same trooper-shooter killed another unarmed young black man in 1966. Forty-five years later, under pressure from black state legislators, a prosecutor finally took up Jackson’s case. The story is summarized in this blog post. 
Jackson’s death, and the heedless racism that killed him, did not go unmarked or unanswered: it sparked the march from Selma to Montgomery, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & now-Rep. John Lewis at the head, which brought about passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Continue reading Jimmie Lee Jackson: One Who Went Before

“Pathway to Freedom” — Opening Night!

“Pathway to Freedom” — Opening Night!

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Yes! The wait is over!

The fabulous unique outdoor drama about Quakers & others joining enslaved people in their efforts to escape bondage in pre-Civil War North Carolina takes the stage for the premiere performance of its 22nd season tonight, July 7.  Showtime is at 8 PM at the Snow Camp Drama ampitheatre in historic Snow Camp NC. 

(If you can’t get there tonight, there are performances Friday and Saturday, then again on July 14-16, and six more after that before the limited run concludes on Saturday August 6.)

More About the play is here.

Ticket prices  & directions are here: 

Don’t miss it!

 

“Pathway To Freedom” – Getting Ready For The Show

“Pathway To Freedom” – Getting Ready For The Show

Ladies, Gentlemen, & Friends: Meet Levi & Katherine (aka Katie) Coffin, circa 1850. They helped make (and followed) the Underground Railroad from central North Carolina to Indiana and Ohio . . . .

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Oh, wait — Meet Levi & Katie Coffin, 2016 . . . Snow Camp NC

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Normally, the young folks above are named Sarah Hornaday and Jay Williams.

Continue reading “Pathway To Freedom” – Getting Ready For The Show

Angelina Grimke & Religious Liberty

Angelina Grimke & Religious Liberty

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Maintaining religious liberty within the Religious Society of Friends has not always been easy. For instance, contrary to popular Quaker legend, work in the abolitionist movement was very unpopular among Friends, and especially repugnant to the entrenched power structure of recorded ministers and elders.

While these authorities did oppose owning, buying or selling slaves, they also thought public activism aimed at abolishing the institution of slavery was “creaturely,” needlessly dangerous — and many highly-placed Friends, while not owning slaves, yet had extensive business interests connected to the slave economy. All these were threatened by connections with abolition “agitation.”

The result was what I have called “The Great Purge”; many Friends were forced out of the Society, and others resigned, to uphold their antislavery principles. Even some meetings were laid down by “executive action” for being tainted by the reforming virus.

Some Friends did not wait for the Overseers and elders to show up to apply this “discipline.” 

Instead, they pre-emptively renounced their membership.  One early activist, for both abolition and women’s rights, was Abby Kelley. She left her Meeting in Connecticut in 1841, publishing her resignation letter, and insisted that she had disowned Friends, for defaulting on their own testimonies, not the other way around. 

In Philadelphia, two rising stars, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, also arranged a departure in their own unique way. Refugees and turncoats from a wealthy slaveholding family in South Carolina, they had joined Friends in Philadelphia because of the testimony against slavery. 

They had also become instant abolitionist celebrities in 1837, when they went on an antislavery lecture tour in New England. Their lectures were thronged, and they even testified before the Massachusetts legislature, the first women ever to do so. But they were rebuked and stifled by the enforced quietism of the Quaker establishment, and soon resolved to leave the Society. 

An elegant way out soon appeared, when Angelina became engaged to abolitionist activist Theodore Dwight Weld. Because Weld was not a Friend, under the existing and strictly applied rules of the Discipline, Angelina forfeited her membership when she married him on May 14, 1838 — and Sarah was disowned as well, simply for being present at the ceremony. (More Friends were expelled for such “offenses” in those decades than for any other cause.)

Lucretia Mott was a friend and supporter of the Grimkes — but she too had been the target of several disownment attempts, and she did not dare attend the wedding to avoid falling into that trap.

Indeed, Lucretia did not attend a non-Quaker wedding until 1863, twenty-five years later, when the strictures of the discipline were beginning to relax their grip:

Lucretia wrote of this in a letter to her sister Martha Wright, on Christmas Day, 1863. In it she told of the wedding of Laura Strattan, a distant cousin, who was marrying a dashing army officer, Col. Fitzhugh Birney. He was the son of James G. Birney, a prominent abolitionist who had run for president for the Liberty Party. The groom came in his dress uniform, accompanied by other soldiers. 

“They made an imposing appearance,” Lucretia wrote, “with all the awful regimentals — [William] Furness [the minister] acted well his part–the whole thing beautiful–his prayer touching– especially the close for Fitzhugh.” 

The marriage did not last long. Birney had taken part in many major battles, including Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and he had been wounded. The exertions of extended combat broke his health, and in the spring of 1864 his health failed.  After surviving so much combat, he succumbed to pneumonia in June; Laura Strattan Birney was a war widow after less than seven months. (Harvard Memorial Biographies, Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1867, Vol. 2, pp. 415-424)

Theirs was one tragedy among a multitude. But the significance of this report here is something else, a detail that by contrast seems trivial to the point of frivolousness, but is nonetheless portentous: 

By openly being present their nuptials that December, Lucretia Mott, aged seventy, had for the very first time attended a non-Quaker wedding, one furthermore conducted by a “hireling preacher,” in a church.  Any of these had long been grounds for immediate disownment in her Quaker world; it was why she had stayed away from Angelina Grimke’s wedding.  

But now she did it — and nothing happened. She had gained and used a new measure of religious liberty, for Friends. the “Great Purge” was ending.

More about this “Great Purge” and its religious context in my book, Remaking Friends, available here.

Lewis and Sanders-On Almost Going Viral

Lewis and Sanders-On Almost Going Viral

Thanks to everyone who read & passed along my Feb. 12 post about John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, and the 1960s civil rights movement.

To my great amazement, the post went, if not quite viral, then at least contagious: as of Monday afternoon, it has garnered almost 12,000 hits; the highest total for any earlier post is a bit over 2300. And it may have had an impact.

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Continue reading Lewis and Sanders-On Almost Going Viral

Pauli Murray – A Saint For Our Time (And My Neighborhood)

January 11, 2017: Great news for Pauli Murray fans: in the last days of the Obama administration, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell,  signed the declaration making Pauli Murray’s home in Durham NC a national historic landmark. The Pauli Murray website is here.

Why is this good news? The post below, from late 2015, begins to sketch out Pauli Murray’s story.:

Yesterday I was reminded that November 20 is Pauli Murray’s birthday — her 105th, to be precise.

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And who is Pauli Murray, a few of you may ask? Continue reading Pauli Murray – A Saint For Our Time (And My Neighborhood)