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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.