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.
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.
While reading about and “living with” Progressive Friends, I was inspired by several of the memorable personalities I walked with. I admired and learned from all of them, as well as others who interacted with them.
But there’s one Friend I identified with especially: Samuel M. Janney.
Where did Progressive Friends come from? How did they get started?
To get at these questions, we have to start by taking down a myth: the myth of the peaceable Quaker liberals of the nineteenth century. They were the ones called Hicksites, who got that name when most American Quaker groups tore themselves into two competing, mutually hostile streams.
Sometimes it can feel like a stretch, but there are at least a few of us who still believe the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, has some useful contribution to make in the world. If this faith is not entirely in vain, that makes the group’s history potentially useful too: where it came from, how it has persisted, what it has and has not accomplished, and what that tale might suggest about its potential. Continue reading Say Hello to Progressive Friends!→
The Progressive Friends were a group that hasn’t yet got their props from Quaker historians. There isn’t space here for an outline of their fascinating history, except to say you can find out more here and here.
But in sum, they started as liberal rebels in mid-1800s America, who took on a hidebound Hicksite Establishment. And they ended, invisibly but unmistakably, as the seedbed and founders of modern US liberal Quakerism. The fact that almost nobody knows this is a shame, but no surprise given the general ignorance of Quaker history among Quakers. (I’ll rant about that some other time.)