Witness to Quaker Racism: A Cautionary Tale

The standoff at the East Sandwich meetinghouse, photograph by Kay Brown. First published in 2007 in Freedom and the Justice Carrier of New England Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Racial, Social, and Economic Justice. Frantz Fanon, the eminent psychiatrist and philosopher, observed that “racism objectifies,” or makes people into things. He identified a number of racist practices: infantilization, denigration, distrust, exclusion, rendering invisible🔒

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Sharon Smith is a lifelong, Black-Indian Friend. She is a former clerk of the East Sandwich Preparative Meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and former co-clerk of the New England Yearly Meeting Racial Social and Economic Justice Committee. She is currently a member of the Cuffee Meeting and lives in western North Carolina and is at work on a book, Mixed Blessing: Growing Up Black-Indian and Quaker.

Posted in: Features, October 2014: Experience of Friends of Color

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22 Responses to Witness to Quaker Racism: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Barbara Harrison October 1, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    City & State
    Chestertown, MD
    It was with a heavy heart that I read Sharon Smith’s account. I find the actions of East Sandwich Friends frankly appalling: so much so that I shall have to spend the next several hours in Silence to recover!

    • Barry Simon November 6, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Hi Barbara,

      Sorry to hear you got so upset, but please know there are different sides to a story and different perspectives of truth. Please read my perspective below. Love and Light, Barry Simon, East Sandwich Meeting

  2. Sharon Smith October 3, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    Thank you so much, Barbara Harrison, for your thoughtful response.

    In Fiendship,

    Sharon Smith

  3. Susan October 4, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    City & State
    Philadelphia, PA
    I, too, am shocked–and I had heard parts of this story before. The physical controls they used on you are almost unbelievable–to grab a wrist, call in police as if threatened, block a door, change locks–when we Quakers (officially,at least) believe in the power of prayer. Anyone enters our meetings, and we pray. People are read out of meetings from time to time, but not without lengthy and belief‐challenging discernment. Apologies. Gratitude. Pledges to work toward eliminating racist structures that allowed this to happen to you and others, that continue to enmesh me in their evil.

  4. Kathleen Wooten October 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    City & State
    Amesbury MA
    As a Friend in New England Yearly Meeting, who came to Friends after 2006, I do not have knowledge of this story, and have no reason to think any of Sharon’s account of her experience is incorrect.

    However, I do have a few facts to add: Two years ago, in my own attempts to visit the Cuffee Meeting, I was told they were only meeting sporadically, if at all. I have continued to try to visit in the spirit of Friendship and openness. I was also told the Cuffee Meeting was “doing its own thing” and not interested in relationship with NEYM or the Quarterly Meeting.

    In regards to Barnstable Preparative Meeting, they are now under the care of Mattapoisett — not East Sandwich, and yes, under the care therefore of Sandwich Quarterly Meeting. Mattapoisett members visit Barnstable every month, and have taken seriously this meeting under their care. That meeting has dwindled to very few members at this time. I visited 2 years ago, and met many Friends who shared with me there story that Sharon has shared in this article. They seemed to me to be active in their own meeting, and grateful for the care of Mattapoisett Meeting. This relationship is reflected on the front page of their website, where they state that they are visited each month by Mattaposiett, and participate in the business meetings at Matapoisett. http://​quakersofthelight​.blogspot​.com

    “Both meetings still struggle with acceptance in Sandwich Quarter, without support from the quarter or NEYM, due to Friends’ reluctance to offend Sandwich.” is how Sharon described the current situation — and I am clear that is simply untrue. That was evident at my attendance at a Sandwich Quarterly Meeting last spring.

    I am disturbed that the current situation is being wrongly represented. I hope that we as Friends will continue to search in loving prayer for the Light that will guide us.

    • Sharon Smith October 8, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Dear Kathleen,

      It is true that Barnstable is now under the care of Mattapoisett, in Sandwich Quarter. Are you aware of the history behind it?

      Barnstable went before the Quarter for FIVE years, seeking recognition as a monthly meeting, which was appropriate, since it had been formed by seasoned Friends, and considering the circumstances with Sandwich Monthly. Each time Barnstable went before the Quarter with their request, Friends from Sandwich Monthly packed the meeting in order to block any movement on the issue. I know this because, though I was no longer in New England, my mother is still there and I was in contact with members of Barnstable and Mattapoisett.

      Finally, Mattapoisett decided to take Barnstable under it’s care, after FIVE years of watching the unFriendly behavior of Sandwich monthly. Then they too became targets of Sandwich’s hostility yet Mattapoisett stood firm in it’s resolve. It was at this juncture, to my knowledge, that the yearly meeting, at long last, stepped in and asked Sandwich monthly to STOP. And they did…at least officially.

      With regard to the Cuffee Meeting: The Cuffee Meeting was formed as a safe space for people of color to worship in the manner of Friends. They keep their own schedule, and are not interested uninvited visitors. Considering their history, I don’t blame them.


      Sharon Smith

    • Tina Kachele October 8, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      City & State
      Albuquerque, NM
      I find your update regarding the current relationship between Barnstable and Mattapoisett helpful in informing Friends that some aspect of this situation has moved forward.

      What also came to mind for me, reading your comment, is that though this aspect of the situation may have moved forward, the legacy of the damaging behavior described here for Sharon (and perhaps for other people of color, such as those who formed Cuffee Meeting) remain. I don’t think healing can really take place until a wound is acknowledged and some form of reconciliation–that privileges the victim’s needs–has occurred. Until we can acknowledge the systems that inform instances of behavior such as described here–systems of racism, oppression, white supremacy–we are likely to repeat those behaviors, even (disappointingly) among Friends.

  5. Librarian October 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Although not a Friend, I read this article with interest on Monday, and today read the book review at http://​www​.npr​.org/​2​0​1​4​/​1​0​/​0​5​/​3​4​3​1​5​0​5​8​4​/​t​h​i​s​-​b​o​o​k​-​o​f​-​w​i​t​c​h​e​s​-​c​a​s​t​s​-​a​-​f​a​s​c​i​n​a​t​i​n​g​-​s​o​b​e​r​i​n​g​-​s​p​ell. The last three paragraphs brought the issues raised here instantly to mind. Sharon Smith (or anyone), please take a look and let me know if you see a connection.

  6. Mackenzie October 8, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    City & State
    Silver Spring, MD
    Ugh! And with the wrist‐grabbing, you’re the one that would have had a legitimate case for charging assault (or is that battery?).

    And shameful that the long‐abandoned practice of reading out came back just to get rid of someone seen as a challenge to the racist status quo.

  7. Lucy October 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    City & State
    Birmingham, UK
    This story makes me feel very sad indeed. Sad that this level of racism exists, sad that it exists within Friends, and sad that Cuffee Meeting have felt it necessary to close themselves off.

    Sharon, and all, I am holding you in the Light.

  8. Sharon Smith October 8, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    Tis true, dear Tina, that no one from Sandwich has ever acknowledged that wrong was done to me. I’m certain they are still in absolute denial that what happened there and then had anything to do with racism.

  9. Barry Simon November 5, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    City & State
    Wow, I can’t believe my beloved Quaker Meeting is being featured so. It is very hard to hear us described in such a way. And hard to read the comments. I was there on that unfortunate day when police came to our Quaker Meeting. If I was to write a story from my perspective it would be quite different from the one above. I’m surprised Friends Journal printed it putting us in such a light.
    I hope you can believe me when I say (from my perspective) there was nothing racist about what happened that day and what followed. It wasn’t a matter of racism but of personalities. People who I genuinely miss left the meeting. With great sadness there was a failure of “different minds, same heart.”

    • Sharon Smith November 6, 2014 at 10:08 am #

      I don’t remember you Barry, therefore you were not a regular attender at East Sandwich or of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee. You were not the clerck, or the treasurer, or a member of Ministry and Counsel.

      If you were present on the day police were called, you did not see or hear what transpired between me and other members of the meeting, which led to the police being called, and therefore, can only speak to it based on hearsay. So, I must ask you Barry, in view of the possibility that you may have been at the pot‐luck that day, what qualifies you to determine whether what happened there was a matter of racism or not?

      • Sharon Smith November 6, 2014 at 10:30 am #

        PS: In fact Barry, you are only proving my point, that Friends in Sandwich are in denial that what happened there between us had anything to do with racism.

      • Barry Simon November 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        City & State
        Middleboro MA
        Hi Sharon,
        I was attending East Sandwich Quaker meeting for a couple of months before that day of the pot luck. We had a few conversations which I enjoyed. And like all the Sandwich Quakers, I liked you Sharon. And I liked others who left as well.

        I’ve tried to make sense of that unfortunate day over the years. As conscientious Quakers our goal is peace, tolerance, love and truth. A task that is not so easy with our human egos.

        This is such a public forum where the truth can get quite distorted, so if you would prefer I’d be glad to email you or talk on the phone personally. I don’t believe publicly painting some of your actions in a bad light is the right thing to do here. Your story has large holes which have distorted the image of good people who are not at all racist. On certain points, again I would rather share with you personally and not publicly. But there is part of the picture I do feel comfortable sharing publicly for I feel our good name has been tarnished.

        Growing up in the sixties, I thought our generation was planting seeds that would eliminate racism. I was naive. With great sadness I watched and heard racism grow around us with another generation. It is heartbreaking. I know it must be awful to be on the receiving end. Not that I know all of them, but I don’t know a single Quaker on all of Cape Cod who does not share these feelings.

        I’m not sure you are aware of the whole picture from that day. That pot luck was for a sweet elderly woman. It was a good‐bye pot luck. When people began to argue outside she became very distraught. Being in the room I looked over and she began to sob. She wasn’t just shedding tears, she was sobbing. I felt bad for her and someone went over to comfort her. This is the part I’m not sure you’re aware of. She had had a heart attack 2 weeks earlier. Our clerk was a trained nurse and was aware of her condition. I was not aware she had had a heart attack. I only witnessed her sobbing. She seemed very distraught. The commotion outside was getting louder and I assumed this was what was upsetting her, I can’t say for sure. You are right when you said I was not outside at the time. But we could hear things were getting out of control. I’m not sure what started this and by no means am I saying you were the instigator, like I said I was not outside. The reason the women did not want you to go in (when you and I’m sure others were so angry) was by no means a racial front but they did not want commotion around a fragile elderly woman. This was why they were blocking the door. It was not a racial incident but an attempt to protect an elderly woman in a fragile condition. What you did to get by the women was not witnessed by me. But I did hear the door bang and you came in quite upset and looked over to us and said, “These women tried to keep me from entering this building.” Again Sharon, I don’t think you were aware of the effect this was having on our elderly Quaker who I’d rather not name, but you know her. I don’t believe you noticed because you yourself were quite upset. At that point she seemed totally overwhelmed and sobbing. My sympathies were with her. Latter I learned of her condition. For a women who recently had a heart attack, no one can predict what will set off another one. At this point the clerk, who was trained as a nurse did what a nurse would do when things get out of hand at a hospital, she called the police.

        Ours, like all Quaker meetings and the reason the East Sandwich Meetinghouse was built in the first place was for the soul purpose of alignment with the Light. It was with deep sadness such a distortion (and I’m not referring just to you Sharon) took place. My wish is for confrontation of truth in this matter. Perhaps others can help. We are by no means perfect and I respectfully include you (and me) in that statement. You and others got very angry that day. Anger is not wrong. I worry about those who never get angry, but my prayer is peace, love, setting our egos aside to make room for the Light and clearness on this issue. My wish is that we can sit down together with you and others in peaceful worship.

        For those who left comments, please do not judge my beloved meeting from a single perspective, as you can see there are different angles and different perspectives to a story and this one has more than just these two. For what it’s worth, this is my perspective of the truth.

        Love and Light, Barry [email protected]​verizon.​net

        • Sharon Smith November 6, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

          Barry, I remember the day you are referring to very clearly. I remember the couple we were honoring with a farewell pot‐luck. As I recall, I was not the one who started the argument. Another member began to verbally assault me right after worship, as I walked from the meetinghouse toward the fellowship hall. I was not yelling; he was. As I remember, it was a lovely day and a number of Friends were standing around outside. I asked those Friends to please intervene on my behalf, and none of the fine people you are referring to, bothered to do so. In fact, the clerk had the nerve to tell me I was representing the meeting in a bad light, when it was quite clear I was not the disruptive one. I accused no one, threatened no one, and I certainly didn’t call the police.

          However, that event was just one memorable day in a series of events where my humanity and my light was disregarded by members of Sandwich Monthly Meeting. I think you need to read the article again, and point by point reconsider the case I have made for racism. Their denial, and yours, makes no difference in the definition.

          • Barry Simon November 7, 2014 at 8:48 am #

            Hi Sharon,

            I cannot say what happened outside. I did speak to a person weeks later that has since passed away and told him I thought he was fanning the flames to the whole situation.

            I did reread your story and a few vital details are missing. One is you struck somebody. As you said in a group email, it did not leave any marks or bruises, but the fact of the matter is you physically struck someone then you some time later made a racial comment regarding it. This is not hearsay, this is from your group email of which I received directly from you. This act was regarded as an act of violence which was why the clerk called the police. And this is why you were banned from meeting for two months. Our sign says “All are Welcome” but what happens when there is an interpretation of an act of violence?

            I cannot speak for others and I do not believe you hit another person hard, I can’t say I was not on the receiving end, but imagine if, in a tense situation someone physically struck you and then made a racial comment about it. How would you feel? What would you do? I think is caused more emotional pain than physical.

            I remember sitting with you on the porch after meeting one day calmly talking and laughing, as with all my other Friends at different times. I do not want to vilify you Sharon. The extreme situation that happened that day by no means defines who you are as a person or them as well. Over the years the whole incident has been a mixture and process of anger, peace, truth, love and Light.

            You may not remember me, but the last time I saw you was when you were all meeting outside in protest (as the photo above shows) When I came out I gave you a hug. I personally did not feel you should be banned from meeting for two months because it was an incident (of which you also contributed to) that got out of hand. I also thought it would magnify the story. I felt and feel bad for all involved. I wish for a whole story to be told containing all of the perspectives so that we will not be unfairly judged. Let’s put out all the facts and these are pretty much all the ones I have from my perspective. Peace, Barry

          • Sharon Smith November 7, 2014 at 11:30 am #

            Wow, Barry, you really have these events twisted in your mind. I never struck anyone. I was however, falsely accused of assaulting someone, which is an entierly different matter. You have not yet answered my question. What qualifies you to determine whether or not my experience with SMM was about racism?

  10. Lewis Randa November 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Allow me to begin by saying that I take no position on what did or did not happen long before I was connected to Sandwich Friends Meeting. However, having read the article and subsequent responses, one thing is crystal clear and indisputable: Friends Journal, by virtue of publishing an article that is so accusatory and one‐sided, has ostensibly burned a cross in the front yard of Sandwich Friends Meeting House. (“Cross burning” takes place in many forms, for many reasons, by Friend and foe alike.) Friends Journal should hold this dispute in the Light, not fan the flames of acrimony.

    I would expect as much from the cable news station that bares the name of the founder of our Society of Friends, not a journal that exists to promote his mission of reconciliation and peace. Articles that are written with a vengeance (and this one clearly was), and submitted to Friends Journal (no matter how credible the author, no matter what the issue), should be held to a standard of “fair and balanced”. This is especially the case when some one or some place is put in the racial crosshairs of an emotionally charged dispute such as this one.

    Lewis M. Randa, Attender
    East Sandwich Friends Meeting

    • Barry Simon November 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

      Sharon, Just want to apologize for my earlier statement of you striking someone. I wrongfully thought assault was the act of striking someone. I also think (my opinion) you did not resort to heavy violence. Perhaps you shoved someone aside who was trying to prevent you from entering a building. Emotional boundaries were crossed on separate sides.

      My main point is there was an elderly woman with a health issue inside the building adding more pressure to the whole situation. If she had a relapse no one would be questioning whether it was a good idea to call the police or not. I also think it’s important the entire story be told. Unfortunately this one sided article has gone to print. Peace Barry

      • Sharon Smith November 12, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

        You know Barry, I think it is disgusting for you to use that elder’s health concerns to justify the bad behaviour of East Sandwich Meeting. She would not have been stressed at all, if Friends had behaved like Friends that day, and not like white supremacist haters.

        You were not out on the front porch so you did not see what actually happened, or who did what, and it is obvious to me, whose tale you believe. So be it. However, you should stop bothering me, because you are beginning to act like a stalker.

    • Sharon Smith November 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

      Dear Lewis,

      Sandwich Monthly Meeting has had the last 8 or 9 years to characterize me as emotionally disturbed, disruptive and dangerous. Speaking of fanning flames of acrimony, it is your beloved Friends at East Sandwich Meeting, who spread the bold‐faced lie that I assaulted someone, so they therefore, had to defend the meeting against me. Be glad I do not repeat their names. As far as I am concerned, they have already had their say. For my part, I have simply told the truth from my experience in a way that is neither vindictive nor vengeful, which, all things considered, is indeed in the interests of fairness and balance, at long last.

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