Contributor’s List for Confronting the Legacy of Quaker Slavery

Avis Wanda McClinton has assembled a team of people to work with her on the 339 Manumissions and Beyond Project. The following are excerpts from what each of the team members wrote about why they became involved in the project.

Stephanie Leonard

Avis Wanda McClinton is a persistent and courageous Black Quaker who brought like minds together to answer a few important historical questions. We intend to unearth information about the 339 enslaved that were manumitted by Philadelphia Quakers and potentially link them to current African American families in the Philadelphia area.

Truth and peace of mind of our African American history is a form of reparations.

Financial reparations is a plus, but as a Black woman living in America, having a connection with our personal history through a digital equivalent of the “wall of Ellis Island” is priceless. This is my desire and reason for being a part of this open minded and supportive group.

Liz Oppenheimer

I became involved with the project because I was invited by Avis Wanda McClinton shortly after her consulting work with Haverford College around its digitized Manumitted project. 

I’m a graduate of Haverford. Years ago, I came under the weight of righting a wrong that I had learned about that had been carried out by my family’s relatives who were in charge of the family business not long before the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. My great uncle and his cousin had posted a sign in the storefront that had read “Negroes Need Not Apply.” 

Tina Lawson

As an African American and attorney fighting for justice, I am excited to lend my expertise to this group. We are committed to doing all we can to make sure we find out all we can about the lives of the 339. Their lives mattered. 

Unfortunately, our country is in the midst of a political shift of denying history that is considered not appealing. We reject this notion. We are embarking on a journey hoping to find truth and to honor those African Americans who were manumitted.  

Wood Bouldin

I met Avis Wanda at the yearly meeting sessions of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association (SAYMA) in 2016. I especially admire her consistently Spirit-centered witness in the complex of problems developing in SAYMA around race, ideology and conflicting patterns of selfhood. The project is trying to uncover and make manifest the full ethical/spiritual personhood of the 339. It is a compelling historical context for working on the problem of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” It urges Friends to reflect on how far we have wandered from the Quaker truth as our way of being in the world for too long.

Rubye Braye

I have chosen to engage in this project for three reasons: 1) I delight in conducting African American research with structured methodologies; 2) I trust Avis Wanda to guide this African American research with care and thoroughness; and, 3) I believe the findings will benefit these African American families for generations, helping these descendants appreciate all that their ancestors endured and contributed.

I see this work as a step towards reparations because reparations make it possible to make amends for wrongs and help those who were wronged and had losses. In this case wrongs include withheld freedom, citizenship, the vote, education, business opportunities, fair wages, housing, healthcare, property, legal transfers, and the like.

Kitty Mizuno

I have been inspired by Avis’s vision, wisdom and faithfulness in acting on her calling to discover the truth about her African American ancestors. Working to support her work led me to discover that the manumission papers for Cesar, age 48 and Celia, age 36, signed by my slave-holding ancestor, Jonathan Evans, a Philadelphia Quaker, are among the papers housed in the Haverford College collection.

What happened to Cesar and Celia after that? Do their descendants know about them, as I can know about my ancestors? Their manumission document doesn’t even give a last name for them, or date of birth.

Working together via Zoom with this group of eight white and African Americans scattered across the United States challenges my previous assumptions as a white Quaker.

Dennis Gregg

I became a Friend in a rural U.S. Southern community that was almost entirely White and was saddened to learn that meetings that were located in far more diverse communities still looked like our all-White meeting. The answer to the question “why” required me to trace both history and assess current attitudes. Meeting Avis and engaging in this project has become a focus for this exploration. Avis is a woman of great integrity, courage, and love. We need to try to match her in these ways.

Avis Wanda McClinton et al.

Avis Wanda McClinton is a Quaker preservationist. This article was written with assistance and input from Dennis Gregg, Bill Herman, Kitty Mizuno, Stephanie Leonard, Liz Oppenheimer, Tina Lawson, Wood Bouldin, and Rubye Braye.

3 thoughts on “Contributor’s List for Confronting the Legacy of Quaker Slavery

  1. My grandfather’s family, on my father’s side, enslaved people. They were held in Ripley, Tennessee and some took the family name “Barbee” when their enslavement ended. Or, so I have been told. I would like to learn more about those who were enslaved, their lives and where and how their descendants live now. I am a Quaker in University Friends Meeting, Seattle, Washington. How/where do I begin?

    1. Thank you for your question, Martha. Here is a response from Dennis:
      “I’m figuring from the lack of generations that these enslaved persons were “freed” after the Civil War. I put that word in quotation marks, because w TN was plantations and most formerly enslaved became sharecroppers or “servants” in the same houses they had worked previously. For that reason she should check with public records in that county as well as whatever historical society exists. She could even do a people search for Barbee in Ridley. My guess is that some of the descendants are still there. ”
      Good luck in your search. I am doing a similar search myself, as two of the 339 people whose manumission documents are in the Haverford College Library’s Quaker Collection in the Philadelphia area were enslaved by my Quaker great great grandfather.
      I spent several months in Seattle and attended University Friends Meeting with my family back in the mid 1980’s. We were lucky to have met Floyd and Tomiko Schmoe there, among many others.
      We would love to hear how your research goes.
      Kitty Mizuno

    2. As Kitty has already said, thanks for leaving a comment, Martha. …In my own family’s case, it took someone from *outside* the family to write about my great-uncle’s racism and how it impacted the family business in those times. After that, I approached one or two other family members who were more open to talking with me and acknowledging that ugly side of the family. There may be family members who would be willing to talk with you about what they know–or at the very least, concerns they share. If your paternal grandfather’s family was particularly prominent in the community at the time, there may be newspaper articles or even books written about them or that mention them. If they were active in a faith community at the time, there may be records–not unlike those kept at Haverford College–that indicate who were enslavers, who were enslaved, etc.

      As I write this comment, I think about the documentary Traces of the Trades, which tells the story of how one family member of a large, white, liberal New England family–Episcopalians, I believe–invited her extended family to explore together how their common ancestor was central to the institution of slavery. And although I haven’t read it yet, the article “Our Quaker Ancestors Owned Slaves” by David Marriott Morris and Eleanor Morris Cox in the same issue of FJ share a bit of their own journey with learning about their Quaker “enslaver heritage.”

      For some people, hiring a professional genealogist may also be a useful step, but that help may be expensive. Being willing to be open about your questions to those who may have some answers and/or some shared concern seems to be an important step.


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