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Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice

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The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has been reputed to have opposed enslavement and later racial injustices. Many members, however, enslaved people of African descent, and Quaker attitudes toward African Americans since have generally reflected the culture at large. To some extent, then, the Quaker story has lessons for us all. Most Quakers did not become involved i The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has been reputed to have opposed enslavement and later racial injustices. Many members, however, enslaved people of African descent, and Quaker attitudes toward African Americans since have generally reflected the culture at large. To some extent, then, the Quaker story has lessons for us all. Most Quakers did not become involved in the process of banning enslavement until 1760, after thirty years of taking only minimal steps to end Quaker participation in it. The process ultimately took another twenty years to complete. The Quaker stance against enslavement, however, was singular. No other Christian denomination of notable size at the time required its members to end the practice. Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye document three centuries of Quakers who were committed to ending racial injustices yet, with few exceptions, hesitated to invite African Americans into their Society. Addressing the insidious and complex racism among Quakers of yesterday and today, the authors believe, is the path toward a racially inclusive community.


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The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has been reputed to have opposed enslavement and later racial injustices. Many members, however, enslaved people of African descent, and Quaker attitudes toward African Americans since have generally reflected the culture at large. To some extent, then, the Quaker story has lessons for us all. Most Quakers did not become involved i The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has been reputed to have opposed enslavement and later racial injustices. Many members, however, enslaved people of African descent, and Quaker attitudes toward African Americans since have generally reflected the culture at large. To some extent, then, the Quaker story has lessons for us all. Most Quakers did not become involved in the process of banning enslavement until 1760, after thirty years of taking only minimal steps to end Quaker participation in it. The process ultimately took another twenty years to complete. The Quaker stance against enslavement, however, was singular. No other Christian denomination of notable size at the time required its members to end the practice. Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye document three centuries of Quakers who were committed to ending racial injustices yet, with few exceptions, hesitated to invite African Americans into their Society. Addressing the insidious and complex racism among Quakers of yesterday and today, the authors believe, is the path toward a racially inclusive community.

30 review for Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice

  1. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Excellent, excellent book. Well-researched and insightful. As an African-American Quaker, this book was a real eye-opener as it revealed that Quakers were not purely abolitionists; their history is mixed. In fact, many were slave owners not willing to part with their slaves. In later years, not all were pro-civil rights with some meetings only allowing blacks as long as they sat in an area of the church especially for them. The book was also comforting as I realized that some of my struggles wit Excellent, excellent book. Well-researched and insightful. As an African-American Quaker, this book was a real eye-opener as it revealed that Quakers were not purely abolitionists; their history is mixed. In fact, many were slave owners not willing to part with their slaves. In later years, not all were pro-civil rights with some meetings only allowing blacks as long as they sat in an area of the church especially for them. The book was also comforting as I realized that some of my struggles within Quakerism are not unique. This is definitely a book worth buying for your personal library. Here are just some of the passages that caught my attention and that may whet your appetite: -In 1848, Quaker Thomas Garrett when facing court fines and a warning "not to meddle with slaves again", replied, "I now consider the penalty imposed upon me as a license for the remainder of my life." He announced to the courtroom that he would be doubling his efforts to free slaves (p. 102). -Quakers "hesitated to accept [African Americans:] as social equals. The challenges for both the newly freed and their former enslavers stemmed from different expectations of what freedom would bring. For European Americans, enslavement had been a system not only for procuring labor but also for controlling the behavior of a people who, if free, were generally perceived as threatening" (p. 110). In fact, the Pennsylvania assembly in 1725-26 that was Quaker-dominated "passed an 'Act for Better Regulation of Negroes in This Province' on the grounds that 'free Africans are slothful people and often prove burdensome to the neighborhood" (p. 110). -In 1732, the Philadelpha Monthly Meeting with regard to how African Americans would fit into the mainstream published the following statement: "sorrowful enough it is to see the great Encrease of Prophaneness and lewdness...much owing to the Importation of great Numbers of vicious and scandulous Refuse of other Countries" (p. 111). -For participating in the Revolutionary War, some Quakers' meetings offered "an opportunity to acknowledge wrongdoing and apologize. Of the 1,212 Indiana Quakers...identified as having served, 220 apologized to their meeting for having done so. The apologies of 148 of those were not accepted, so the men were disowned" (p. 147). -In 1790, a white Quaker "who was guardian for three orphaned children descended from enslaved Africans, had been told at meeting that the children must sit in a separate location" (p. 191). -One African American Quaker in the 1800s sat in a "little box under the stairs...and afer a while we sat upon the back bench" (p. 195). Upon leaving that meeting and going to a different one, this Quaker sat on the back bench with her child. When that church moved to a new location, she decided not to sit on the back bench any longer unless told. When she approached another bench in the meeting, lo and behold, she was told a back bench had been "set apart for colored people" (p. 196). -The prejudice didn't just stop however during life. In 1703, a Friends meeting records show "that deceased negros [are:] forbidden to be buried within the bounds of the graveyard belong to this Meeting" (p. 198). -Thank goodness though for those of higher thinking. The American Friends Service Committee created by a small group of Friends in 1917 had an interracial section devoted to issues of employment and housing opportunities, etc. They hired Crystal Bird an African American to speak on various issues related to the black race and she said her main goal was "in having people of other racial groups understand the humanness of the Negro wherever he is found" (p. 215). -As AFSC's work took off, "one Friend asserted that while he had been taught only what Quakers could not do when he was young, now he was hearing what they could do" (p. 216). This statement belies the emphasis on the rules that I even see in my own church to this day. -The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Meeting for Social Concerns "believed that difference in attitudes, 'seems to be, largely but not completely, between those who have worked and lived closely with members of other minorities and those who have known them only as employees or acquaintances or have had little chance to know them at all" (p. 285). I find that this still exists today. -In 1937, when a statement was circulated among parents pledging to pull their children out of a school if a black student were admitted, some parents remarked, "Not one of us has the slightest prejudice against the Negro race, but on the other hand we believe it unwise and unnecessary to have our children thrown in close daily association with Negro children. Once the door is opened it is inevitable that others will follow" (p. 323). -Even into the 20th century, the ambivalence of blacks continues. In a 1974, African Americans "stated that they were often treated as visitors or invisible guests whom European American Quakers both patronized and ignored. In 2002, [an African American Quaker:] noted, 'Friends seem to require a person or color to carry a resume and ask, 'Why are you here?' I have been here for years, and you act like I am a visitor" (p. 377). Even after 10 years in my church, I still feel like an outsider and upon becoming an elder have even been asked by some, "how do you know how to do this?" I wonder was that question ever asked of any of my white counterparts? -One African American who served as a general secretary of Friends General conference described his frustration over isolation and said, "Sometimes when I'm weak I want to say, 'God, why did you send me here? I don't know. I know I was sent..." (p. 378). This echoes sentiments that I have wrestled with in just the last few weeks as a result of events in my own meeting. -Another African American reflected that "she realized that she missed 'the presence of African Americans as a regular part of my religious experience' and wondered 'if my commitment to Quakerism had come at the price of ethnic isolation" (p. 379). Again, I have fel those same feelings and to feed my soul, listen to more black religious programming. It's like I take refuge in the black experience when I feel sufficiently beat up my experience in a predominantly white, suburban, middle-class church with somes values very different from my own.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mariana

    Fit for Freedom, Not For Friendship by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel All Quakers will want to read this challenging book. I t not only gives the history of African Americans and Quakers, but forces us to confront our on racism and what we will do about it. If Quakerism is going to be relevant in the 21st century, we must reach out to people of various races and ethnicities; We must come out of our introverted shells and encounter people where they are. This book begins with the first encounte Fit for Freedom, Not For Friendship by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel All Quakers will want to read this challenging book. I t not only gives the history of African Americans and Quakers, but forces us to confront our on racism and what we will do about it. If Quakerism is going to be relevant in the 21st century, we must reach out to people of various races and ethnicities; We must come out of our introverted shells and encounter people where they are. This book begins with the first encounters of Quakers and African Americans and goes to the present day. While there are a few outstanding Quakers like John Woolman or Lucretia Mott, many of us Quakers are stuck in the paradigms of our society and must transcend them to build the Blessed Community. Starting to read the book was daunting, but I found it is a surprisingly captivating read. Occasionally, I got irritated by the labeling of each person as either European American or African American. And I realized that there are almost no Hispanic American Quakers. So maybe, if we do the hard work of confronting our own racism, Quakers will become more multiethnic.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rainbowgardener

    To start with, I don't know why this lists only Donna McDaniel as the author. It was co-authored by Vanessa Julye, whom I have met several times at various Quaker gatherings. She should be credited!! She is doing wonderful work helping Quakerdom explore issues of implicit bias/ white privilege, etc. For me as a European American who has been a Quaker for over fifty years and for whom Quakerism is very central to my identity and very beloved, this is a difficult read. I spent the whole time consci To start with, I don't know why this lists only Donna McDaniel as the author. It was co-authored by Vanessa Julye, whom I have met several times at various Quaker gatherings. She should be credited!! She is doing wonderful work helping Quakerdom explore issues of implicit bias/ white privilege, etc. For me as a European American who has been a Quaker for over fifty years and for whom Quakerism is very central to my identity and very beloved, this is a difficult read. I spent the whole time consciously trying to keep an open mind and not react defensively -- obviously not entirely successfully. The book is meticulously researched with maybe 1/4 of the pages devoted to footnote citations (which are in the back but keyed to the page they come from, so easy to use). It is very well written. You would think such an academic work might be very dry and boring, but it reads well and holds your attention (or mine anyway). You could extract out of this book a proud saga of Quakerism's ongoing commitment to the testimony of equality. They thoroughly document the fact that in every year almost since the beginning of Quakerism in the 1600's, Quakers have been involved the the equality struggles and usually leading the movements: leaders in the abolition/emancipation/suffrage movements, very involved in Reconstruction era efforts to alleviate suffering, very involved in desegregation efforts in the Jim Crow period, standing up for school desegregation, working against work place discrimination, etc. Quakers were leaders in the Civil Rights movement, were Freedom Riders, worked with Martin Luther King. Quakers developed work camps and other projects for European descent Quakers to work along side African-Americans to improve neighborhoods. This has continued to the present with Quakers very active working against mass incarceration, for prison and justice reform, and very involved with white privilege efforts to examine our own conscience and actions. For such a tiny group (currently less than half a million of us in the US), we have had influence well beyond our size. I doubt that any other religion has had such consistent commitment or such out-sized influence. BUT, the whole tone of the book is but it is not enough, but we aren't perfect, but it was not all Meetings or all Quakers, there were still Quakers who were caught up in the culture and world view of their times. Of course there were, we are only human. And of course the activism efforts were not everyone. Not everyone is called to be an activist. Whatever the cause, pacifism, ban the bomb, bring the troops home, protect the environment, etc etc, it is always the case that a few people are called to be the activists and lead the way and most of the Meeting/congregation, continues on with their quiet lives with their work and family and just tries in all the small, personal ways to live up to the Quaker values and testimonies. Have we done enough? Probably not, partly because it is hard to know what would be enough. Despite the massive amount of research, there was lots more going on that they don't (and can't, this is already a very large book) document. The book focuses a lot around the large Meetings and Yearly Meetings in the Philadelphia area, probably because it is easier to find documentation of their work and struggles. The small Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio I attended for forty years is never mentioned. But we had members of our Meeting go to jail in the 50's working on integrating public facilities. We had a member of our Meeting go to the South as a Freedom Rider (David Fankhauser, who is briefly mentioned). We had European descent members of our Meeting living in mixed households with African American friends. When we bought our Meeting House in the late 1960's, we deliberately located ourselves in a mixed neighborhood not far from downtown, that was at the time in danger of "flipping," to be an anchor to help keep it integrated, which has happened. We have been active in prison reform and prison ministry and have provided specific and tangible help to African American prisoners and ex-prisoners. With our own hands we rehabbed an apartment downtown to be low income housing. We attend White Privilege conferences, we have an African-American sister church and consistently reach out to the African-American community. We have done urban ghetto immersion weekends. We maintain a standing outreach ad in a black community newsletter. And no, rarely do we have African American members, but honestly it is not for lack of trying. I say all this not (really) to defend us, but to point out that all of this going on in our Meeting is probably duplicated in many other liberal Quaker Meetings, but unsung and undocumented.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Kopel

    I will be hearing Vanessa Julye speak next week at Pacific Yearly Meeting. I had been interested in this book before and wanted to read it before I go to PYM. It is really wonderfully researched and detailed, at least in the pre-1900 years. And it is difficult to learn the truth about Quaker support for abolition and civil rights, although it makes sense given both the religions beginnings and also the people who are Quakers. It is very interesting to me to see that the experiences I find so fru I will be hearing Vanessa Julye speak next week at Pacific Yearly Meeting. I had been interested in this book before and wanted to read it before I go to PYM. It is really wonderfully researched and detailed, at least in the pre-1900 years. And it is difficult to learn the truth about Quaker support for abolition and civil rights, although it makes sense given both the religions beginnings and also the people who are Quakers. It is very interesting to me to see that the experiences I find so frustrating with Quakers today, particularly the tension between those who want to take ACTION and those who want to make sure we are truly led, and those who want to season the idea (until it goes away,) were exactly the issues Friends have been dealing with thoughout this book. On the one hand it is sad to realize that if we havent *gotten it* and found a way past these procedural issues by now, they are not likely to be resolved in my lifetime. There is some slight encouragement to learn that this is not something Quakers are suffering from only today, that we did not invent the problem. I loved reading a book where EVERYONE was identified as European American or African American, etc, not only those who are not the customary *default* race. By about page 2 I didnt understand why everything was not written in this style. It seemed so inclusive and natural.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Adrianne

    I got to the part in the book where Atlanta Friends Meeting was providing a space for civil rights activists to meet together, black and white, because there was nowhere in the city where they could do that, on the weekend that my youngest was on a youth retreat hosted by Atlanta Friends on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (because we have many days of celebrations around MLK, Jr. here in Asheville, it's not just the one day). It felt like a convergence. Then on to how Quaker schools failed at th I got to the part in the book where Atlanta Friends Meeting was providing a space for civil rights activists to meet together, black and white, because there was nowhere in the city where they could do that, on the weekend that my youngest was on a youth retreat hosted by Atlanta Friends on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (because we have many days of celebrations around MLK, Jr. here in Asheville, it's not just the one day). It felt like a convergence. Then on to how Quaker schools failed at their own desegregation and found that the first Quaker private school to make an honest effort at desegregation was the Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie. How about that family? And that brought me to wondering about how desegregated it is today (I don't know, but imagine that economically, it's likely to be rather homogenous). .... just reflections and musings. Pack full of information this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    Vanessa says she hears people say 'it is hard to get past the title'. I confess this is the same for me. An important read about the human reality of race issues, even among people who are ethical in some wonderful ways, a history of sorts. Personally speaking from personal experience Quakers are fantastic (yes, exactly, a huge and loving generalisation :), which is why the dynamic subject is all the more contemporary. Vanessa says she hears people say 'it is hard to get past the title'. I confess this is the same for me. An important read about the human reality of race issues, even among people who are ethical in some wonderful ways, a history of sorts. Personally speaking from personal experience Quakers are fantastic (yes, exactly, a huge and loving generalisation :), which is why the dynamic subject is all the more contemporary.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Not very well written. Tedious is a good word. But informative. I was glad to get the history. I read it because of a book club in my Quaker Meeting. We discussed it on Zoom. The discussion and my experience raising my Black kids in the Meeting brought to mind the subtle racism in my “color-blind” meeting. Which I normally try not to think about.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rhiannon Grant

    A detailed and helpful history of this complex topic, which resists simplification of both the facts and the moral judgements involved. Julye and McDaniel uncover both what is bad and good in the history of Quaker work on racial justice - if I were to try and summarise a pattern, it would be that often the efforts of some are undermined by delays from others - and end with hope for the future.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mich

    An important and nuanced account which remains hopeful, I'd recommend it to Quakers. As a British Friend it leaves me wanting to know what a systematic and critical analysis of Quaker history in Europe would throw up - I'm sure there would be connections and similarities but probably also some differences. An important and nuanced account which remains hopeful, I'd recommend it to Quakers. As a British Friend it leaves me wanting to know what a systematic and critical analysis of Quaker history in Europe would throw up - I'm sure there would be connections and similarities but probably also some differences.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    All Quakers must read this. The end.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    A really important book for me. It took me 6 months to read because I found I could only digest 3 or 4 pages at a time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Edwin

    A rather dry book that tells the history of the anti-slavery movement in the United States. I found the book hard to slog through but fascinating at the same time. In some senses it provides an almost "too good to be true" view of the anti-slavery work juxtaposed to a religion that was still struggling with the concept of true freedom and equality in the 1960's. Definitely an eye opener from what has perhaps become the John Wollman myth of how Quakers confronted slavery. A rather dry book that tells the history of the anti-slavery movement in the United States. I found the book hard to slog through but fascinating at the same time. In some senses it provides an almost "too good to be true" view of the anti-slavery work juxtaposed to a religion that was still struggling with the concept of true freedom and equality in the 1960's. Definitely an eye opener from what has perhaps become the John Wollman myth of how Quakers confronted slavery.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina

    The authors came to speak to our meeting and I resolved to read the whole thing, as long as I'm recommending it to people. Most people know Quakers opposed slavery and worked in the underground railroad, but few know that whole communities moved west to free soil to establish safe lives for their former slaves. On the less heroic side, read about the stubborn stain of segregation within the Society of Friends, in both meetings and schools. The authors came to speak to our meeting and I resolved to read the whole thing, as long as I'm recommending it to people. Most people know Quakers opposed slavery and worked in the underground railroad, but few know that whole communities moved west to free soil to establish safe lives for their former slaves. On the less heroic side, read about the stubborn stain of segregation within the Society of Friends, in both meetings and schools.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    Very painful to realize that Quakers were not living to their testimonies.

  15. 5 out of 5

    M

    Going through it slowly. Impressed by their research, but that means its not a quick read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    J. Bill

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kirk

  18. 5 out of 5

    Graeme

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lilac

  20. 5 out of 5

    Liz Yeats

  21. 5 out of 5

    Charles Hardy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Agymah

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael Jay

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jane

  25. 5 out of 5

    bbruth

  26. 4 out of 5

    C.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is not in Wili or Worldcat. I will ask for it through ILL.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Fran

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ione

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