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My Experience as an African American Quaker

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Part I

The concern I have is to express my experiences as an African American Quaker and also to be believed. This story began long, long ago when our country’s policy supported the system of buying and selling Africans for profit. Black, Native American, and white abolitionists worked together on the Underground Railroad. From 1852 to 1865, Quaker abolitionists Thomas and Hannah Atkinson’s farmhouse, located in Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, was used as an Underground Railroad station. Many fleeing runaways were helped by them to get to northern states or Canada. The former Atkinson farmhouse is still in use today as the Upper Dublin School District administration offices. This building still contains some of those secret places where terrorized fugitives were hidden. Adjacent to the farm is the Upper Dublin meetinghouse and graveyard. The Atkinsons were members here. When runaways died on this branch of the Underground Railroad, they were buried secretly at night in the meetinghouse graveyard because the law prohibited any assistance to runaways. I personally admire the people who risked their lives being abolitionists because they could have been imprisoned for assisting runaways. Both Thomas and Hannah Atkinson are buried in the meetinghouse graveyard along with many of the people that died seeking freedom.

I began to attend Quaker worship at Upper Dublin Meeting at a difficult time in my life in 2009 when I needed a quiet place to connect with God. I am the only African American member the meeting has ever had. This meeting is a very old one which usually has less than ten in attendance each Sunday. Many of the members are descendants of Hannah and Thomas Atkinson. I was in awe when I became aware a few years ago that enslaved people were buried in a section of our meeting’s graveyard. I knew that Quakers were abolitionists in the era of slavery in America, but this concrete evidence of our history had a powerful impact on me. I knew this was sacred ground because the sacrifice of my ancestors held in bondage made it possible for all African Americans to be free. These historic heroes were never mourned, never had their voices heard or their place in history truly recognized. They deserve to be remembered and commemorated. It makes me proud to know that the religion that I converted to was a part of the anti-slavery movement.

My leading from God is to do everything in my power to protect the earthly remains of the enslaved African Americans interred in the Upper Dublin meetinghouse graveyard. I have taken this leading personally because these are my ancestors. At a meeting for business, I learned that my meeting was making plans to sell the plots where they knew the enslaved African Americans were buried. I thought that was a desecration of my ancestors’ final resting place. How would you like it if someone disturbed the remains of your loved ones?

This is what my leading has accomplished so far:

  • On Saturday, February 9, 2013, a memorial service was held in the Quaker manner for the interred enslaved African Americans.
  • On Saturday, February 16, 2013, a second memorial service was held.
  • In March 2013, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission designated this place as a Pennsylvania Historical Site. The placement of this Pennsylvania historical marker, recalling what happened here during the era of slavery in the United States, is pending.
  • Starting with the 2013-2014 school year, the Upper Dublin School District in Montgomery County made this significant local history part of their social studies curriculum. Before doing this, the district had instituted a community-wide diversity program for community residents, and all school staff, including librarians, cafeteria workers, maintenance crew, bus drivers, teachers, and administrators, so that they could implement this new curriculum with sensitivity. All of this was done under the leadership of Dr. Michael Pladus, a Japanese American superintendent. In this way with this new curriculum, all students can gain a more complete understanding of American history. I was unable to do this when I was a student in the district in the 1960s and 1970s.

On October 26, 2013, the dedication ceremony was held for the graciously donated granite memorial marker where the enslaved African Americans’ graves are. The Upper Dublin School District, including students, their parents, and the superintendent all participated in this celebration. The marker inscription reads:

IN HONOR OF THOSE KNOWN ONLY TO GOD / THE BRAVE AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN TRAVELING ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD WHO DIED SEEKING FREEDOM / 1852–1864

The three well-attended services that we held at Upper Dublin were multiracial, intergenerational, and interdenominational gatherings of folks who were profoundly moved and freely spoke of their deepest feelings. It has been a great honor to be able to remember my ancestors from the time of slavery in America in this way.

By being awarded a Pennsylvania historical marker for this site, a page has been put in our nation’s history. This is a remarkable achievement.

Part II

Enslaved people had to hide in the daytime and travel by night, so as not to be caught. There is a story that I read about the Underground Railroad that still haunts me; it’s about a woman with her children. One night when this woman stepped away from her children suddenly a predatory panther took one of her children away. She could hear the cries of her child as he was being eaten. Then there was silence.

My experience at Upper Dublin Meeting is not a happy story, but it is a consequence of slavery.

The unfortunate racial hatred that my meeting members have directed toward me because of this project has made a hostile environment, so it is impossible for me to attend weekly meetings for worship. But, in order to carry out the work of my leading, I need to go to business meetings. Since March 2014, my quarter and yearly meetings have arranged for my safety to have two Quakers from other meetings accompany me for meetings for worship for business to carry out my leading.

One true example of verbal abuse directed at me by a meeting member occurred just before worship started one Sunday. We were taking our usual places on the benches, and a member walked up to me as I was sitting ready to worship, and said, “I don’t want to sit near you. Get up, and go sit in the back somewhere.” This intimidation didn’t work on me. I didn’t move.

Another time a generous member of the meeting offered to cater the repast after the memorial service. I took this to business meeting and was told no; the African American guests would not be fed in the meetinghouse. Finally, after a lot of frustrating discussion, the meeting agreed to serve only cookies and juice to our guests.

The meeting has withheld the contributions made for this project, so there are outstanding bills.

As a group, we went out to the graveyard and agreed on a spot to place the memorial marker which was donated by a local company. After taking pictures and measuring where the memorial marker would be placed, I informed the Graveyard Committee that I wanted to be there when the marker was installed to take pictures of the installation, and make sure that no bones were uncovered. However, that didn’t happen. No one from my meeting informed me that the stone had been installed. A neighbor who lives near the meetinghouse called and told about some activity in the graveyard. I went over and found the marker installed about four feet nearer to the wall at the back of the graveyard, not at the spot that we had all agreed on. I was very angry. Everyone knew how important this memorial marker for my ancestors was to me.

When Upper Dublin fourth grade teachers asked to bring their classes to visit the meetinghouse and memorial marker during February, Black History Month, the meeting didn’t think Black History Month was important, so they took no action. The students’ visit happened in June, just before the end of the school year.

At the last meeting that I attended of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Ministry for Racial Justice and Equality, hosted at my home, the clerk of Upper Dublin Meeting at that time who was also a member of this group turned to me and said that white people are more civilized than black people. It was as if the ceiling had opened up and dropped ice water on me. I was speechless. To add insult to injury, neither the clerk of the Ministry, nor the other members of the group sitting there, all of whom were white, said anything. The insult went right over their heads. After the meeting was over and everybody left my home, I immediately wrote a letter of resignation to the clerk of this group. Later one member of the group called me and apologized. This incident made it extremely difficult for me to interact at Upper Dublin Meeting to carry out my leading to honor my ancestors since I had to take everything through the clerk.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approved this site at Upper Dublin Meeting as an historical site back on March 26, 2013. There is paperwork that has to be finalized by the meeting so the roadside Pennsylvania marker can be permanently placed. As yet, more than a year later, no action has been taken by the meeting. If we don’t take action soon, this distinguished award will be forfeited.

The most serious incident that I have experienced took place during our worship hour one morning in February: I was moved by the Spirit to stand to share a message that had come to me, but before I could say a word, a member jumped up and said, “Shut up, you are a bum! I don’t want you in this meeting any more. Get out!” I was so astonished at these hateful remarks that I picked up my pocketbook, and as I was leaving I paused and said to each and every one there, “You see what is happening, and you say nothing? That makes you just as bad.” Then I told them, “God will get you for this.” And I left and drove home. How humiliating it was to be run out of my meetinghouse! Later, I found out that they had called the police and told them I had made a terroristic threat, which I did not.

There are members of my meeting who would like my membership taken away from me. I feel as if I am desperately fighting for my very soul and my right to worship at my own meeting.

Part III

Where is God here? Historically injustice and inequality have been a part of American society and of the Religious Society of Friends. This situation at Upper Dublin Meeting is horrible. Obviously, if these incidents happened to a white Quaker, things would be a lot different. Sadly, the kinds of things that happened to me in my meeting continue to happen to Quakers of color in other meetings. This makes me feel frustrated, marginalized, and alienated. A faith community is supposed to be a nurturing place whose members should not tolerate such hateful actions.

Query: Does your faith community face the need of having honest and open discussions about the legacy of slavery with all its hurtful facets? Can we accept the strong feelings that will arise from these discussions?

Query: Is your faith community prepared to work with your local community to create a racially diverse and equal society?

Query: As a Friend would you allow another individual to insult, demean, hurt, or exclude another from his or her worship? How can people just stand there and let bad things happen?

God has given me the leading to do this work. God is real to me. If God asks me to do something, He expects me to do it to the best of my ability because He said, “I will never forsake you.” The legacy that I want to pass on to future generations does not include hatred.

Where, as a Quaker, do you personally stand on this issue, and where do I go from here?

 


Updates: 

  • Historical Marker Unveiled (9/28/14)
    • On September 28th Upper Dublin (Pa.) Meeting of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting celebrated the unveiling of a Pennsylvania historic marker which honored the lives of Thomas and Hannah Atkinson, members of the meeting who offered safe haven on the underground railroad. The AFSC’s Acting in Faith blog covered the unveiling.
  • The clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Jada S. Jackson, responds (10/9/14)
    • “As clerk, I am concerned with the spiritual state of the entire meeting. When we become a member of Religious Society of Friends we commit ourselves not just to our monthly meeting but to a communion of Friends seeking that of God in everyone. This community, as the individuals within it, is imperfect. Yet we obligate ourselves to love each other.”
  • Members of Upper Dublin Meeting respond (12/1/14)
    • A letter from a group of Friends in Upper Dublin came to us from the co-clerks of the meeting and represents an informal collective response from some meeting members who felt concern with this article.

 

Avis Wanda McClinton is a resident of Glenside, Pa., in Upper Dublin Township. She is a board member of the Grandom Insitution, a grant making project of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.


Posted in: Features, October 2014

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46 Responses to My Experience as an African American Quaker

  1. Barbara Harrison October 1, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    City & State
    Chestertown, MD
    It has taken me several hours to recover from reading Sharon Smith’s article and I find Avis Wanda McClinton’s just as appalling. I am wondering if I will be able to work up the courage to read any more of this month’s articles. I am frankly ashamed of my white brothers and sisters and applaud the bravery of our brothers and sisters of color in remaining among us.

    Editor: please feel authorized to integrate my two posts this morning if you wish to do so.

  2. Sharon Smith October 1, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    Dearest Friend, Wanda, please know that my heart, spirit and prayers are with you. We are in this together. You are not alone.

    • Pam Burrows October 6, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

      I am so grateful that both of you are staying and struggling with us. My horror at the experiences both of you describe leaves me barely able to speak.

  3. Dawn Hirsch October 3, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    City & State
    Ambler, PA
    As one of the two clerks of the Upper Dublin Meeting Graveyard I AM appalled at the absolute untruths once again told by Avis McClinton about our meetinghouse AND it’s members. I am the only person that speaks to Friends interested in a burial in our graveyard and NEVER have I EVER stated to someone NOR attempted to sell a plot NOR discussed the possibility of EVER using the grounds that we have held sacred for the last 200 years. Avis has only been with us for the past 4 or so years but for some reason she is under the impression that we have only, “through her leading’s”, held that ground sacred since her arrival. There has always been a Graveyard Committee in place there to protect the grounds, those buried in our cemetery and our proud history. I am a descendant of the Atkinson family so this means so much to me, my family and all of our members.
    As far as the other hateful untruths told regarding “racial hatred” I don’t even have the words to express the upset that these very serious allegations have caused and will continue to cause.

    • tonya October 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      City & State
      Coatesville, PA
      Dawn Hirsh states what appears to be two truths: (1) her legacy (connection to the founding family) and (2) Avis’ four-year membership. The hostility in Hirsh’s reflection is evident. After all, Avis states that she joined in Upper Dublin Meeting 2009 and that many of the hostile members were a part of the Atkinson family clan. Before reading Hirsch’s “response,” I pondered how much was perception (which is important) and how much was reality. Yet, Hirsh, in her response, attempts to discredit, dismiss, and neutralize Avis. She does not address any of the provable allegations such as (1) has a marker been put up? and (2) was the police ever called on Avis? No, no…Hirsh defends her family church (it does not appear to be a meeting) and name, true to what Avis writes in the article. As a black person and Quaker, you don’t have to worry about me attending this place that requires unofficial secret service for Avis. In fact, it would be worth an investigation to see just if this “meeting” is actually a family cult. Hirsh may be a descendant, but her response reflects that she does not have the values of Quakers nor her ancestors. Sad indeed. Avis should be commended for her work, not ridiculed. Fine work Avis.

      • Sharon Smith October 7, 2014 at 10:30 am #

        Thank you Tonya, for standing up for our dear Friend Avis. She does us all credit, by her faithfulness.

      • Tina Kachele October 8, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

        City & State
        Albuquerque, NM
        Thank you for these insightful comments, which helped me tease apart the layers of fact, emotion and reaction here.

        And thank you, Ms. Mc Clinton, for being willing to share this story and for your witness.

    • Pam Burrows October 6, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

      City & State
      Minneapolis, MN
      Dawn – perhaps after some reflection and cooling off time you could more concisely and less emotionally address the issues she raises. Do you have any idea why she might have thought your meeting might sell the land/etc? seems an odd thing to make up out of whole cloth? I do have a strong sense of discomfort at having “only one side of the story” and being entirely unfamiliar with your meeting, but telling us only that you’re angry and think Avis is lying is not furthering understanding at all.

  4. Nikki Mosgrove October 4, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    City & State
    Ewing, NJ
    I am so very saddened by Ms. McClinton’s experience–I felt physically ill after reading this! I am a member of the Trenton Meeting (NJ) and I couldn’t imagine being treated in this manner (I am also an Black woman). We should all hold her and the entire Upper Dublin Meeting in prayer!

    • Chet February 13, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

      City & State
      New York, New York
      You can pray all you like, but without action it is just a reaction.

  5. Alice Yaxley October 5, 2014 at 5:10 am #

    I hope it’s clear to all Friends that the only qualification we have is how we stand in the presence of God. No Quaker ancestry, no worldly wisdom or experience has any significance in our lives of faith besides how we live from that Divine Life which blesses and leads us.

    Unfortunately there are cultural residues which get in the way of our faithfulness to the divine Life and lead to idolatry and injustices. Meetings which are not attuned to the needs of those joining the Society can be extreme in their lack of welcome. Lack of attention to the Divine Presence is of course going to cause failure and inability to carry out the duties entrusted to us, because God is the One who gives the power to do what we are supposed to do, and all that is good comes from that Soucre.

    The structual violence of racism that surrounds us in society is easily carried through and acted out in Quaker circles, as many can attest to, including the authors of the articles in this months’ FJ, as well as the classic text ‘Fit for Freedom . . .’. I believe that it is only when we enter into the transformative Divine energy, drinking deeply from that Living Water, that we can be cleansed of our faults and prejudices and set to rights, able to live a life of mercy and justice under God’s guidance. All of our administrative tasks for Meetings must be secondary to our faithfulness to the Holy Spirit of God. No ancestry can do this for us: only our own daily effort to take up our cross and follow that Teacher who alone can lead us rightly.

    My prayers are with all those who are responding to the issues of this months’ FJ, especially with those who have suffered much at the hands of white Friends, and my hope is that the divine spirit can show mercy by moving to lift the burdens of those who are suffering most, and gently reach and heal the hearts of those who are most in need of change.

    Thanks for your faithfulness in your work for God and for writing this article, Avis Wanda McClinton. Perhaps an outpouring of God’s love will occur from your faithfulness, and that of the other authors in this issue. That is my hope for healing the bitterness and hatred in the hearts of those who are amongst us in Meetings, so we can once again respond to the Holy leading upon which we are relying for transformation and healing in the world around us as well as within our own hearts, families, and Meetings.

  6. patricia walsh fingeroff mrs October 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    City & State
    phila pa. 19118
    I am stunned. Absolutely stunned by this treatment of Avis Wanda McClinton by Upper Dublin Meeting. What about “That of God in every person”???

    Pat Fingeroff, Abington Friends

  7. William Frank October 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    City & State
    Spinnerstown, PA
    I was married in the Upper Dublin Meeting, and had several friends (the personal type, not the Quaker type) in attendance of the ceremony. All persons in attendance were offered seating on a first come, first serve basis, and not one person was asked to move. Neither during, nor after, the ceremony did any one of my friends ever complain of any slight or innuendo to, or about, their genetic inheritance. I remember a homogeneous group of human congeniality seated before me and my wife-to-be; the space between persons seemed equitable to the general amount of personal space required by this particular species, and there were no obvious grouping(s) by family origin, primary language, chosen gender reference, height, weight, or skin pigmentation. However, what appeared to a random seating of humans, was more likely influenced by long-term friendship alliances, time of arrival, and/or each person’s habitual use or non-use of tobacco.

    I speak not to individuals involved in any, implied, dispute above, but only to my experience with this establishment. I have no intimate knowledge of any event relevant to this editorial piece, other than that of which I write in this short comment – a comment which speaks only to a single, fond memory etched in the infinitesimal synaptic spaces of my ever deteriorating mind. Sigh.

    Go thee in peace, be thee in harmony with the divine, and avoid thee solitary confinement at all costs.

  8. Andy Rose October 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    City & State
    Boulder, CO
    Kudos to FJ for publishing Avis’ experience. Y’all “thresh” or whatever, I believe her and recommend “laboring with love” with Upper Dublin and “reading them out” of whatever quarterly and yearly meeting condones and perpetuates this behavior. Who will care for this meeting? What in the world is “sacred ground”? Spirit moves in all things. Let them reapply for care from quarterly or yearly when they

    are clear on Friends values and ACT like they know what our testimony means, which are not a mystery

    This “Dawn Hirsch” could read The New Jim Crow and get on the right side of history and act Quakerly.

    • Cat Chapin-Bishop October 7, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

      I am confused. Why is it self-evident that Avis Wanda McClinton’s recollections are true and accurate, but Dawn Hirsch’s are not? Yes, it is quite true that Quakers have reflected the racist assumptions of our culture on many occasions. But what has been presented here is very much a she said/she said, and I do not know why so many of us feel comfortable sitting in judgement on an entire meeting.

      I’m sorry–at the risk of being accused myself of being racist, I sincerely do NOT know what to think based on what I have read here.

      • Maia Simon October 8, 2014 at 10:21 am #

        City & State
        Trenton, NJ
        Dear Cat, I attempt to answer your question – why do we appear to accepts Avis Wanda McClinton’s account at face value?
        1) Some of us who have commented here are familiar with the situation and the steps taken by the Yearly Meeting to bring reconciliation.
        2) As Friend Tonya states in her response to Dawn Hirsch’s comment, Dawn Hirsch does not challenge the facts; she simply accuses Avis Wanda McClinton of lying.
        3) By my reading, (admittedly from a position of knowledge about this situation) I hear Avis Wanda McClinton telling a story with sadness and a broken heart and I hear Dawn Hirsch attacking that experience as untrue, unwarranted and indefensible. This is not dialogue that brings reconciliation.

        I know in my own life when I insist that the way I see things is “Right”, it means I have blinders on. The only way we can embrace “Truth” is to be willing to be wrong. We each are children of the Divine. We each have access to the Kingdom of God. I was unable to find that place until I admitted I was wrong about much that I believed.

        I pray for everyone at Upper Dublin Meeting that all may find Truth as revealed by continuing revelation, that all may see each other as worthy, flawed, broken people, and all may offer and receive the love that comes from God.

        • Cat Chapin-Bishop October 8, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

          Maia, it may be true that those who are familiar with this situation have enough information to be clear that Avis is in the right and Dawn is in the wrong. However, as Friends Journal is published for a wider audience, I am troubled that this article has run with no context, no comments from those who can confirm or dispute the events given here in any other way than this comment thread.

          Nor am I clear that everyone here with a strong opinion is privy to information that I am not.

          This does not seem to me to be a particularly good way to bring reasoned dialog to the question of racism to my mind, either. It seems to me almost calculated to inspire conflict, and that seems a disservice to Avis as much as to Dawn. It would not have taken much background information to give a context to her remarks and allay my fears. Without those reports, though, I remain very uneasy with this process, of sitting in judgement on a meeting in the pages of a magazine, based on what is at least a seriously incomplete description of events.

          • Maia Simon October 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

            City & State
            Trenton, NJ
            Cat, I completely agree with your analysis.

  9. Bettye October 6, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    City & State
    Lanham, MD
    After reading these journals for two months, I knew that the Quaker method of Sunday worship was for me. I had located a meeting house that was not far from my home, and had made up my mind to attend this coming Sunday. Now, after reading the article by Avis Wanda McClinton, I’ve changed my mind; the service would provide no respite from the ugliness of the world.

    • Christina VanRegenmorter October 7, 2014 at 12:32 am #

      City & State
      Nashville, TN
      Dear Bettye,

      I found the Quaker way 13 years ago, and it has been a very worthwhile journey. My meetings have been nothing like this one, at least from my experience. The practice of being a Friend and living into our testimonies is very difficult. As humans, we are all fallible, and as Quakers, we especially can seem fault-ridden, particularly when the ray of truth is shining brightly. I hope you can see this article and the truth telling it attempts not as a sign that the Quaker Way is or is not for you — but that individual Quakers 1) have enormous faults (individually and collectively, like all religions and groups of people) and 2) have developed a practice of airing those faults in a transparent fashion (at times). We are challenged to speak and act and work in love, even when there is conflict, which is probably one of the things we struggle with the most (we like to be right….).

    • Phil Oliver October 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      City & State
      Tucson az
      Bettye,

      I first attended a Quaker Meeting in 1979 and became a Friend in 1988. I have been a member of two meetings, one of which, for a year or two was troubled, in a way that Friends rarely see. But that meeting found its way through those troubles to be a strong and vibrant and deeply spiritual meeting much the better for the experience in my opinion.

      It was the testimony and experience of that first meeting that brought me back, though not all meetings for worship are so deep or meaningful; I kept coming bak for almost ten years before I decided to join a meeting, and it was trough the next ten or so years that I learned so much more and so much better how Friends work together and how they resolve concerns among themselves and with others. I belong to a large urban meeting; on occasion distrubed people enter the meeting for worship. I have seen the most firm and loving responses to that discord from members.

      I don’t know what has or has not happened in the meeting in PA, I don’t know how to reconcile the different stories told here with Truth. What I can say is that it is highly unlikely you will ever such issues as reported here at any meeting, We are people, we have our personal prejudices and leanings (though explicit, as opposed to unconscious racism is not one I’ve encountered). We have our foibles. I cannot promise a perfect experience. But I really think you should try a few meetings both in the sense of experiencing several meetings for worship and in the sense of experiencing that at different Friends’ Meetings, before you decide the experience is not for you. It is not for everyone but it’s been good enough to keep me coming back for 35 years.

    • Shelia Bumgarner December 29, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      City & State
      Charlotte, North Carolina
      No two Friends Meetings are alike in how a new attender will be received. Sometimes, you have to attend three different ones to find one that speaks to you. Please do not let these troubling events deter you from following your spiritual journey. Friends will address these issues and handle them in the manner of Friends.

  10. Esther Cowley-Malcolm October 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    City & State
    New Zealand
    I couldn’t believe I was reading this about ‘Friends’ …How can they sit and worship as Quakers when their behaviour is so racist?.I am normally so proud of what I read in our Quaker Journal that I want to share it with the world but this I am so ashamed of that I want to hide it…it is like a big white horrible stain on my Quaker family. However, I applaud Avis for speaking her concern and for telling her story. I really hope and pray that she will find a meeting place that embraces and loves her in all her full-ness. I am so sorry that Avis has been treated so appallingly by people who deem themselves to be Quakers. In reading Avis’s story I am filled with this sick feeling in my stomach and a real pain in my soul. Thank you for publishing Avis’s story as horrible as it is we need to know so we as Quakers can respond appropriately to eradicate this horrible disease of racism from our society.

  11. Andrew Swartley Cohen October 6, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    City & State
    Madison, NJ
    You have brown eyes
    I have blue
    why don’t you see the truth
    as I do

  12. Wade Wright October 7, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I believe the story Avis Wanda tells about how some individuals in her Meeting have treated her. I ask that all Friends/friends who read this story look in their hearts and listen to the still small voice of God and find out what the Spirit wants from them. What does Love require? How can justice flow? I am praying that we all look around and see the Grace that is being brought to our community in this situation.

  13. Lee Henkel October 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    City & State
    Riner, VA
    I’m not going to address who’s right and who’s wrong in their perception of the truth; both probably believe that what they said is true. This is what concerns me the most: “To add insult to injury, neither the clerk of the Ministry, nor the other members of the group sitting there, all of whom were white, said anything.” This is absolutely plausible, as I have seen similar things happen in other Quaker settings. I have attributed it to Friends’ dislike of conflict, but we are complicit when we don’t speak up.

  14. Maia Simon October 8, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    City & State
    Trenton, NJ
    Avis Wanda does not have access to the internet, so I have printed these comments so she can see how her article has been received. If friends want to address support to her directly, please send snail mail c/o Maia Simon 6 Collins Rd, Trenton NJ or email at [email protected]

    • Maia Simon October 8, 2014 at 11:20 am #

      City & State
      NJ
      08619

  15. Patricia O'Donnell October 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    City & State
    Ft Washington, PA
    Is it possible that the situation at Upper Dublin is a result of an enthusiastic person who is new to Quakerism running up against people who are set in their (slow Quaker) ways? I’ve seen this sort of situation in many different types of groups over the years, but normally, the enthusiastic newcomer either figures out how to work within the organization’s constraints, makes changes to the group from within, or gives up and goes elsewhere. But in this case, instead of viewing it as a “new vs old” culture clash, Friend Avis Wanda has made the assumption that her conflicts with the Meeting are purely because she is African American.

    It sounds as if this group initially welcomed her with open arms (there is no mention anywhere of these “racists” attempting to dissuade her from joining their Meeting). It also sounds as if the problems started with this new Friend when her leadings conflicted with the burdensome process of obtaining consensus from the Meeting. This is indicated by her own words: “Another time a generous member of the meeting offered to cater the repast after the memorial service. I took this to business meeting and was told no; the African American guests would not be fed in the meetinghouse. Finally, after a lot of frustrating discussion, the meeting agreed to serve only cookies and juice to our guests.” It sounds as if, in Avis Wanda’s experience, it would be disrespectful to invite people to an event and not provide lunch, but the Meeting may have felt that a full catered meal would be a logistical impossibility and argued that punch and cookies had been adequate in the past. Does this tiny Meeting normally provide full catered meals when they host larger events, but punch and cookies when some of the people at an event will be African American? Does she believe that “a lot of frustrating discussion” is something that could have been avoided were she not African American?

    We have not been provided any perspective from the Friends at Upper Dublin – this article is details the perspective of one relatively new Quaker who feels that her Meeting is not adequately supportive of all of her ideas and plans, and she attributes this lack of enthusiasm to racism. Please think hard on this, Friends, before leaping to assumptions about a situation you do not know firsthand (and I do not, either). Think hard about how your Meeting (or any other group you belong to or work for) has handled energetic and enthusiastic newcomers who are full of good ideas, but are not yet familiar with your corporate culture. We may yet learn something from this conflict, but in the end, it may not have anything to do with race.

    • Mackenzie October 8, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      City & State
      Silver Spring, MD
      If the Meeting ordinarily does only punch & cookies, I would think the member of the Meeting who offered to cater would know that. You don’t get to be a member by never showing up! And since someone had offered to handle all the catering, it doesn’t seem the Meeting would’ve had to deal with the logistics themselves either. They had a point person available.

    • Mackenzie October 8, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      City & State
      Silver Spring, MD
      It is easy to dismiss individual occurrences as coincidences or explain them away. This is a favorite way of dismissing others’ concerns, or gas lighting. Over time, patterns can emerge from those occurrences though. I think the unchallenged comment on which race is more civilized combined with her being called a “bum” follow well in line with our culture’s dominant way of thinking about race.

  16. Diana Collinelli October 8, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    City & State
    Bristol Pa.
    .
    I recently met Avis at PYM and was inspired by her spiritual sincerity to honor her ancestors As a former abuse counselor I can say that she spoke to me about the members of her meeting in a way that other women who had been marginalized spoke. I felt that she needed support and continue to feel this way. I along with my grandson, Dante sat with Avis Wanda at Upper Dublin Meeting at the Dedication of the Offical Pennsylvania State Historical Marker. It brought tears to my eyes to see God flowing through Avis Wanda.
    This is our opportunity to show our love and compassion to follow Black Quakers. Let us not ignore this Way Opening for us all to love each other no matter what .

  17. Sam Lemon October 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    City & State
    Media, PA
    Having read the letters by Sharon Smith, Vanessa Julye, and Avis Wanda McClinton, I was greatly saddened by them. For some time, I have also been aware of the serious concerns regarding the conflict at Upper Dublin Meeting and I attended all three events to honor the former runaway slaves buried in the graveyard there. As a descendant of former runaway slaves, this was deeply meaningful to me. Each of those events — including the most recent on September 28th when the historical road marker was unveiled — were well attended with a rich mix of culturally and ethnically diverse people. Everyone present appeared genuinely moved by this spiritual and commemorative gathering. And it is difficult for me to believe that these three noteworthy and wonderful events could have happened without the cooperation of the members of Upper Dublin Meeting.

    Over the many months of this controversy, I found myself accepting on face value the many allegations concerning some of the members of the Meeting and the Atkinson family, which alarmed me — without ever having been present to personally hear or witness any of these reported events. That is not to say that these things could not have happened. But it dawned on me, that I had never heard the other side of the story. From my personal contacts with her, I believe that Avis is a deeply spiritual person with strong, inspirational leadings. But the same may be equally true for other members of the Meeting or the Atkinson family.

    While racism continues to be a major and destructive problem in our country, perhaps even in some of our Meetings, it is essential not to discount some of the critical points made by Friend Patricia O’Donnell above. The slow, deliberative nature of Quaker process can be very frustrating, even maddening, at times. And Patricia raises a good point in wondering what would have been the outcome had all the people involved been of the same race. I understand the need for Quaker process, but I feel that sometimes Friends adhere more to the letter (of the law) rather than the Spirit. In this way we cling to the very forms and structures we eschew. And what can understandably be viewed as foot-dragging would be better served by a more nimble process.

    None of what I have said is an apology for racism and insensitivity, as I have experienced both in my life. And both continue to exist in the world and within the Society of Friends. As Sharon and Vanessa mentioned in their respective letters, it can be difficult — and lonely at times — being a Quaker of color. Perhaps the Society has rested on its theological laurels too long, because there is an arrogance that has developed over the years among some Friends who feel they can tell others what to believe, or have no problems shouting at or disrespecting others in meetings. We have lost members of my own Meeting because of such behavior.

    Being tried in the press is never a good way to discern the truth. A better way of addressing this conflict would have been to have all parties involved meet together with objective third-party Friends to have a frank discussion and arrive at a peaceful resolution. Perhaps that has already happened. But regardless of their veracity, to air these grievances in the media, particularly after the fact, is unfortunate and unfair to everyone at Upper Dublin Meeting. Because warranted or not, it is public shaming that only encourages further conflict and prohibits understanding and reconciliation. Whether true or not, had I been accused of such racist acts I would be quite angry and defensive, too. And I would not be particularly eloquent in responding to them.

    William Penn said: “For me to be right does not mean that you must be wrong.” I don’t know if this situation is reconcilable, because there are now such serious divisions and deeply hurt feelings on both sides. But I hope that everyone involved would be willing to put that aside to try to reach a better level of understanding. What I experienced at Upper Dublin Meeting on Sunday, September 28th, with the Meetinghouse packed to capacity with people of all ages and colors of one human family in worship and in sharing — was not only spiritually inspiring, it was magical — and worth repeating there, and everywhere. And that would help us grow.

    A young lady with an angelic voice closed the ceremony by singing the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, a capella. We should contemplate those lyrics and take them to heart. And strive to be a better Religious Society of Friends.

    • Phil Oliver October 20, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

      Sam thank you for that thoughtful letter which helps put things in some perspective. I know Friends and I know that we are as fallible as anyone else; I also know most Friends try very hard to live up to what we say we believe in.

      I do not find it impossible to believe in the one side of this story we have been told; on the other hand I do know there is always another side, and it a glaring problem that we are presented only with one, no matter how fervently and honestly it may be presented. It is good that Quarterly and Yearly are involved and tending to the matter, even if matters may be to the point where no reconciliation is possible.

      Quakers are surely not perfect people and unless a meeting tends carefully to its process it can fall afoul of any human failing including racism. However it is truly extreme that a meeting would accept openly racist ideas or talk. It is not at all hard for me to believe that a meeting could unthinkingly carry subtly racist ideas and actions. My meeting has very few African American faces; surely there are many reasons for that, including cultural differences but I am sure some would just not feel welcomed or at home for reasons we could (and if we understood them better would) change.

      As Friend Patricia O’Donnell seems to suggest in her posting, I suspect at least some of this comes from a collision of a new and enthused, strongly led but unseasoned member with the long and slow and perhaps lethargic tradition and feelings of life-long members.

      I do hope to hear the other side of this story however. I do hope to hear that some of the facts cited are incorrect or misperception or misunderstanding. I do hope for reconciliation but I am also minded that a person may well find they are better suited to another meeting; it is unfortunate that the strong issues surrounding this graveyard make that difficult indeed for Friend Avis to look to another meeting as her spiritual home.

      In my experience as a Friend I have seen that a meeting can grow unhealthy in its ways, and be healed and become as result strong and vibrant and capable and renewed. I have also seen that various kinds of prejudice in individuals can exist without meeting accepting or giving strength to them. I hope the efforts of Quarterly and Yearly Meeting will bear fruit.

  18. Takashi Mizuno October 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    City & State
    Watsonville, California
    Dear Sam,

    I read your comment a couple of times. I had not written a comment until I read yours today because I was the one who indirectly recommended you as one of the speakers for the ceremony on September 28th at Upper Dublin Friends Meeting. Although I do not share some of your views, I share your following hope : ” I don’t know if this situation is reconcilable, because there are now such serious divisions and deeply hurt feelings on both sides. But I hope that everyone involved would be willing to put that aside to try to reach a better level of understanding. ”

    As people say, we can not change people , but we have the power to change ourselves. I think that it is now helpful to not take action but to have enough space and time for both sides in order to get to the place that you and we have hoped for.

    Takashi Mizuno

  19. Suzanne October 9, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    City & State
    New Orleans, LA
    In the Facebook comments on this article (found on FJ’s official page), Friend Robyn has posted a series of pictures from the dedication ceremony that are worth seeing.

  20. Martin Kelley October 10, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    In case readers on this thread miss it, Jada S. Jackson, the presiding clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, has written a response: https://www.friendsjournal.org/presiding-clerk-philadelphia-yearly-meeting-responds/

  21. Bill Samuel October 22, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    City & State
    Rockville, MD
    I assume it was the intent of FJ in publishing the articles, including this one, in which individuals relate the experiences they felt at the hands of Friends Meeting, to provide an opportunity for the largely white readers of FJ to hear directly from Friends of color in their own words and understandings. This kind of hearing is one of the steps needed if Friends are to grow into consciousness of the racism that is embedded and awareness that changes of heart and mind are needed. I hope some will be ready to have their understanding expanded, but the cold reality is that some will have difficulty in accepting the need for change.

    It seems to me that it is important in this that the Friends be able to name the specifics of their experiences. I understand the distress that this may cause other Friends involved in the situations described in this and other articles. However, I believe that attempting to provide a “balanced” perspective would result in the failure to really hear the experiences of Friends of color. It would sort of bury their experiences in a mix of voices. There is a difference in the way we need to treat the voices of those who have been excluded in many ways and the voices of those who have been in the dominant role. It is true that no single person’s experience of a situation involving a number of people can provide the whole story, but it is vital to highlight the stories of those who have not had much of a voice.

    I pray that this and other efforts to address the embedded racism in the Society of Friends in North America will touch many hearts, and help many Friends to grow in recognizing and struggling with racism.

    • Tina Kachele October 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      City & State
      Albuquerque, NM
      This Friend speaks my mind. Thank you.

    • Kitty Mizuno October 31, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

      City & State
      Watsonville, California
      Dear Bill Samuel,
      I am grateful to you for pointing out how important it is to listen to the stories “of those who have not had much of a voice. Might I suggest that you consider posting this on the “Quakers Talk about Racism” group facebook page? If you are not a member of the group, you can request to become one. I hope your opinion can be read by a wider audience. I don’t know how much longer it will be available on this page, as I expect the November Issue of Friends Journal will be posted soon. Or, with your permission I could post it for you.
      With thanks,
      Kitty Mizuno

      • Bill Samuel November 1, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

        City & State
        Rockville, Maryland
        OK. I have posted it as a comment to the link to the article on Quakers Talk about Racism.

  22. Black Quaker November 21, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    All of these white people tears are funny. One person claims an injustice and you automatically switch into white guilt mode. It’s embarrassing. We are a people built on an investigation of truth. It is possible that this Friend is hurting in a profound way that has made her see this situation in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality of her surroundings. I hear and feel that in the subtext enough to not automatically lash out at a meeting that I’ve never been to and people that I don’t know.

    Now, is there racism within the society? Absolutely. Have I experienced in profound and hurtful ways, you bet. Should these folks be allowed to bully a fellow member for any reason? Absoluely not. I’m simply suggesting a level of empathy for all in the situation.

    • Kirsten Dean December 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      City & State
      Austin, TX
      This Friend speaks my mind.

  23. Kur B. November 26, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    City & State
    Southeastern, PA
    I felt emotional a few evenings ago when I read through this article and thread. Having only been attending Meeting for a few months it does not feel right to voice an opinion. I really tried not to but here I am a few days later….meant to be electronic humor 🙂
    Recently a weighty Quaker suggested we use life stories during an informal Worship and Ministry . Shortly afterwards I felt moved when I heard Christie use life stories and analogies. So I thought I’d refer to my experience without the gory details.
    My opinion is that I have no opinion. It’s been my experience that using a public forum for sensitive issues is an accident waiting to happen. Regardless of how good my intensions were and how sensitive I tried to be, I found electronic communications- (e-mail before the new millennium in my case) such as Social Media, websites (passwd protected or not), e-mail, SMS (aka TXT messaging), etc.; are not a good place to try to resolve or even discuss sensitive issues. I suppose I’m in the minority because I’ve come across many wonderful people (some with the best of intensions) go at it electronically since Netscape 1.0. Actually, I didn’t find it painful just over data but voice comm. lines (the phone) as well.
    Whether I felt right, wrong or indifferent if someone asked for my experience; I found it more productive (and less hurtful) if I shared it in person.
    This article/thread and all of its content has been very insightful. I have taken many things from it, learned a bit more about the Quaker way of life and have (happily) stumbled upon an acquaintance’s post. With all the good that data communications (including this one) provide, I found not going there difficult at times but (eventually) it felt like the right thing to do.
    I.E. I had a Facebook account for a few months in order to take part in a group regarding an historical topic. We created the group with the mission of remaining loving and caring; anyone who was not would be removed. The sense of that group evolved into something else. As much as I adored the topic, I bugged out of Facebook.

    Obviously, none of my experience is unique and some of you had heard this before but I thought I’d share it anyway. I was hoping to keep this post to a paragraph or two. Boy did I fall short…LOL (or would that be long?)

  24. Shelia Bumgarner December 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    City & State
    Charlotte, NC
    The whole October issue weighs heavy with me and not in a good way. A failure to communicate and maintaining “this is the way we have always done it” only explains part of the unpleasantness. However, when someone insisted that she sit in the back of the room, as well as the clerk’s comments followed by someone calling her a bum when she tried to present a leading in Meeting for Worship cannot be explained away. Either those things were said or they were not.

  25. Joe Uknalis January 3, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    City & State
    UDMM
    We submitted this for publication in the December FJ issue […]

    [Eds.: The response from some Friends in Upper Dublin Monthly Meeting appears in the December 2014 Forum]

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