[Note: the headline above needs some clarification: actually it’s liberalQuakers who aren’t likely to welcome Penn’s comeback; many others may cheer. More on that below.]
May I have your attention, liberal Quakers? The effort among some of you to expunge William Penn from our Friendly pantheon because he owned slaves has in many ways been a big success: his name has been scrubbed from the rooms, building & events you frequent; his writings downplayed or ignored, and the search for replacement paragons, and even a replacement history, is underway.
So, William Penn has been canceled and erased, wiped away in the Great Dismantling:
In 2016, a long-running Penn lecture series in Philadelphia was redubbed the “Seeking Faithfulness” lectures.
Then, in late 2020, a Washington DC Quaker hostel and conference center, founded as William Penn House in the late 1960s, was scrubbed and rechristened “Friends Place.”
In April of 2021, across the pond, Friends House in London, which has twenty or so rooms named for various Friends, deleted Penn’s name from the list; I’ve not seen if the space has been renamed. [Update: it has been renamed for Benjamin Lay, the very dramatic early slavery protester, who was disowned for his disruptive actions.]
In the abstract, I have no problem with renaming (or no-naming) Quaker facilities; our buildings are not sanctified, but functional; memories and attitudes about the dead evolve, and even reverse.
One instructive case is the Quaker burial ground on Nantucket island off the Massachusetts coast. Thousands of Friends are interred in it, with no name markers at all, except for a few headstones placed later by some renegades, described as “heretics” by earlier worthies.
That was the Nantucket way: however different while alive, in personality, position, wealth or poverty, all those Friends ultimately testified to equality in the anonymity of their graves. So it goes.
But not always.
I find I can’t go along with erasing Penn. It’s not “principle” in this case, but practice: his figure keeps popping up in my mind.
I’m not an expert, but I’ve been involved in raising several American Girls: daughters, granddaughters & now great granddaughters. And I hope I’ve learned a thing or two.
Here’s one: several of the American Girl doll characters were very valuable for one of them, and me, at the turn of the millennium.
I never bought any of the dolls, which were made to resemble girls from different eras in American history: great idea but too pricey, I discovered the series, and one character, at the library, in an associated audiobook. It was Addy Walker: an enslaved girl, who escapes from sun-baked southern tobacco fields to freedom. In six connected stories, her family begins to cope with the opportunities — and hardships — of a free life in a still unequal American society.
In those years I often traveled with my oldest granddaughter, driving us for hours to family and Quaker events. Good books on tape held our attention and helped pass many miles. They also promoted the appeal of reading, one of my goals for her.
Addy was an audio and read-aloud favorite for me. My granddaughter is multiracial, and Addy’s stories were mulch for the continuing task of nurturing and navigating her growing identity in our somewhat more free but still unequal world.
They also dealt, delicately, with class: For instance, Addy’s family goes to work in a dressmaking shop run by a Quaker businesswoman. This owner is no mere saintly icon. She’s on the side of freedom, but is an unsentimental demanding boss, pressing for efficient, quality work that can be sold for a hefty profit. Nothing wrong with that! Continue reading Raising American Girls?→
The Nation: Abolition Democracy
W.E.B. Du Bois and the making of Black Reconstruction.
By Gerald Horne – MAY 3, 2022
By the time his magnum opus, Black Reconstruction, was published in 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois was already a rara avis—a prominent Black activist-intellectual in the midst of Jim Crow. Dapper and diminutive, and nattily clad in suit and tie, he was renowned throughout the country.