On June 27, 2017, Mark Sumner’s friends and family buried him in a quiet North Carolina cemetery.
But tonight, in a wooded grove some miles away, Keisha Little Eagle will resurrect Sumner. And she’ll do it by running away.
No wonder issues of race in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting are in a mess.
I’d read and interviewed and blogged about this on March 23, 2017; but it was brought home to me directly in early June.
That’s a restrained way to put it.
More plainly, I was set upon, ambushed by two persons claiming to be part of the self-styled Philadelphia “Undoing Racism Group,” or URG, as they called it for short.
It began at Pendle Hill in early June, where I was visiting their Young Adult Friends conference, as a specimen Geezer Quaker, before moving on to the Quaker History Roundtable later in the week. It came as a request to hear some “concerns” about my March blog post; I agreed.
It turned out, though, that the two URGers, a white male and female, wanted rather more than to “express concerns” about the post. In a session that stretched to three hours, they declared it was full of racist lies, had damaged their cause, and that it and I were thereby shown to be enablers, even pillars of racist white supremacy.
To set things right, they insisted I must retract the post, publicly apologize for both the text and its headline, and as a sign of real repentance, become a booster of their agenda.
I was unable to meet their demands. For one thing, there are no lies in the post; I stand behind it. For another, URG’s repeated rebuffs in PYM came well before it appeared, as did the turmoil and division that accompanied their efforts. The post may have echoed the questions of some others, for which I am not sorry; it was hardly their source. And I am not moved to become URG’s scapegoat. Continue reading Philadelphia YM’s Racial Turmoil Continues: Ambushed by URG→
We wrapped up the gathering on Sunday morning June 11, after fourteen lively presentations, with a brainstorming session on research we’d like to see about American Quakerism in the last century.
We had already accumulated two flip chart pages of suggestions. And in two more hours, we filled several more sheets. Only the fact that it was time to head home brought the intellectual jam session to a close.
This should not be surprising. Both the energy and the curiosity had been running high since . We had learned a lot in the fourteen formal presentations since Thursday evening. But there was so much more to explore.
Back home after this extraordinary long weekend, the ideas are still echoing, and calling.
There was a lot to like at the Quaker History Roundtable,, at least for me. Here are several things in particular:
The mix of elders and rising talent. Our lineup included some of the most distinguished senior Quaker historians still active, and several young researchers and archivists who are just entering the field.
In addition, we did pretty well elsewhere on the diversity front: there were participants of color, LGBTQ, close to parity male/female; various branches were represented, and at least one was a registered Republican.
This variety was not the result of a planning committee checking off boxes. Presenters stepped up, and brought papers as their ticket of admission. So active interest in what has happened among American Friends of late is found on numerous points of the spectrum.
There was a sense of immediacy and connection. Many events that presenters wrote about, some of us had lived through, or had personally felt the reverberations. And in some cases, though the “history” goes back many decades, it is far from over yet.
Willingness to open up tough questions: Does FUM have a future? Was there militant segregation, war fever & homophobia in a large southern yearly meeting? (And how much still lingers?) Communists working with AFSC?
Other socialist influence among Friends then?
Archives are exciting! Staff from four major collections (Lilly Library at Earlham, Haverford, Guilford College’s Quaker Historical Collection & Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library) showed that their stacks and vaults are not only rich treasure troves of insight and answers for seekers, but also arenas for some of today’s most contested questions, and magnets for talented younger Friends.
It was no accident that the Roundtable was opened by two very articulate archivists, focusing on such issues. They voiced plenty to ponder & work on here, both in and out of the stacks.
A supportive setting. Major kudos are due to to the Earlham School of Religion, from Dean Jay Marshall to its office staff, for unstinted support and active hospitality to the Roundtable project.
The facilities were comfortable and compact (no need to wander a sprawling campus, unless one wanted to). Meals were ready on time; and staff & volunteers were ready to help ease the many details; the video cameras ran quietly and continuously.
Media to share the event: by autumn, there will be a book of papers, which will include the Research Agenda notes as well.
And in the meantime, videos of the presentation have just been uploaded by ESR’s intrepid videographer, Ryan Frame, You can find them, in nine segments, by clicking here.
Watching is freeand no registration or other data sharing is required. (But comments are welcome!)
What can become of a venture like this? My hope is that it stimulates & encourages more research and reflective presentations on these and the many other remarkable events, personalities, troubles and accomplishments that marked Quakerism’s 20th century in the U. S. These can show up in many venues; keep an eye out.
Earlier this year I posted about a controversy at Friends Central School in Philadelphia, where a Palestinian Quaker, Sa’ed Atshan, was invited to visit and speak, then abruptly disinvited & the two teachers who invited him, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, were suspended.
The news site philly.com reported on May 10 that the two teachers have now been terminated effective June 30. Along with that decision came an invitation from the school to Sa’ed Atshan to speak at Friends Central sometime in the future, on “his personal experiences and path to peace education.”
The report added that
[The suspended teachers] were offered severance pay of $5,500, but that is contingent on their dropping a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit, said Mark Schwartz, their lawyer.
“This is a ridiculous offer,” he said. “I’d be surprised if they took it. Unlike the school, these two have some principles.”
School representatives on Tuesday declined to give a reason for the terminations.
The Handmaid’s Taleis a novel. The story below is not. It is true, and it happened in 1990, but its reverberations are still being felt, and are maybe stronger and deeper now than when they burst into view. Margaret Atwood’s fictional vision was directly relevant to it — as well as that of another novel which became its mirror image. Read on to understand why.
It begins with a showdown at Silver Bay, involving witches versus demons.
I. Gilead Meets the Goddess
New York Yearly Meeting gathers at Silver Bay, a resort complex on Lake George, north of Albany. Silver Bay is a lovely and peaceful setting, to which many New York Quakers return as pilgrims each summer seeking rest and renewal among Friends.
When the yearly meeting gathered in July of 1990, rest and renewal seemed in short supply. The 1980s had not been easy for New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM).
While many other unprogrammed yearly meetings were growing, New York’s membership declined by about ten per cent; the body struggled to meet its budget; and worst of all, its annual sessions were wracked by chronic wrangling, over doctrine and morals. An effort to rewrite its Faith and Practice, pending since 1977, dragged on abrasively throughout the decade; by 1990, this process had become so acrimonious that the Yearly Meeting put it on hold for a year.
In its travail, New York had become a kind of field laboratory for an ongoing experiment in institutional Quaker ecumenism. Unfortunately, in the latter years of the 1980s, many of the results of this test had not been promising, and never more so than at its 1990 session.
I’ve been retired for four-plus years, and interested in Quaker history for about fifty. I’ve done research, attended conferences of historians, and written my share of articles and books on related topics. I’ve also organized some conferences. (For more about this work, click here. )
Retirement is supposed to be when, with time growing short, one gets to work on the bucket list. And on my list, making some sense of the last century — half of which I spent among Friends — is pretty high. Much higher than going on a cruise.
Working on Quaker history has been continually stimulating for me, and often fun. And not much has been done on the 20th century among Quakers — despite the fact that a LOT went on.
Seventeen years past the end of that century, I figured it was time to start filling that gap. So about a year ago I started sounding out scholars and others I’ve met and heard about who are also Quaker history geeks, and suggested we do some work, then get together and share and discuss it; many were interested. And I had enough savings to underwrite it, so I did. Continue reading Friends’ History Coming Alive: The Quaker History Roundtable→
Three forces in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PHYM) are on a collision course, and unless there is a major new development they are due to meet head-on Saturday March 25, at the spring yearly meeting session.
On one track is the self-styled Undoing Racism Group (URG), which is determined to “hold accountable” the YM, its staff & structures in a drive to “decenter whiteness” & uproot what it sees as an entrenched culture of “white supremacy.”
On another track are those in the YM who are uneasy with the URG. Everyone insists they want to banish racism; but some question whether URG is the best vehicle for this work. Its assertive/aggressive style, some doubt the wisdom of its proposals, some are troubled by both.
This mix is volatile enough. Then on March 4, the third train hove into view in the form of the PYM General Secretary, Christie Duncan-Tessmer. She announced several staff changes, abolishing four job slots, and downgrading another. [Photo below: Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.]
Job cuts are always hard. As Zach Dutton, PHYM Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life, put it on March 6, 2017:
Laying down the four coordinator positions that make up the Youth & Young Adult Programs Team allows us to create space for the expansion of the current set of programs we offer. I know that this seems counter-intuitive. It also hurts the Friends who work in these positions to lose their jobs. It hurts the communities they serve to lose relationships with their coordinators. This fact bears repeating and holding up. There is nothing about laying down the positions that isn’t painful and that doesn’t make life hard in the short term. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the coming transitions are as smooth and supportive as humanly possible.