#6 Sarah Mapps Douglass and Her Gifts to Quakers and Her African American Sisters

Last week I shared with you stories about Paul Cuffe, black sea captain, businessman, philanthropist, and Pan Africanist. As I reread the post, I think of so many other things I wanted to say. Perhaps, another post will fill in those gaps.

Today’s post is about a woman, so often not known by modern day Quakers, much less the rest of America, Sarah Mapps Douglass. Even many of the Philadelphia Quakers I contacted scratched their heads. Unlike Paul Cuffe, Sarah Douglass was not an active member of a Quaker meeting, asked to serve on committees, or participate as a speaker at yearly meeting. She did attend Meeting for Worship nearly every Sunday from her childhood well into her adulthood. Her gift to white Quakers of her day was to speak her Truth about who they were and how the way they as a group treated her was hurtful and hypocritical. That was a mark of courage and forgiveness most of us as 21st century Quakers are just now struggling to deal with.

Sarah Douglass was born in 1806 in Philadelphia, PA, the daughter of Robert and Grace Douglass, members of the free, black middle class of that city. Her mother ran a milliner’s shop on Arch St. Her father from St. Kitts was a barber. Her grandfather was Cyrus Bustill, a former slave, married to a Native American. Both of her grandparents had Quaker connections and had attended meetings most of their lives. They were never asked to join. Cyrus was a leader in the Philadelphia black community and one of the founders of the Free African Society, an aid organization that led to the foundation of the African Episcopal Church by Richard Allen. Her mother Grace was active in the abolitionist movement and one of the founders of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. She was also a teacher and a founder of a school for African American girls, started with help from James Forten, a wealthy black businessman of the city.

Tutored at home and in the school started by her grandfather after his retirement as a baker, Sarah Douglass taught at her mother’s school, spent several years as a teacher in New York, returned to Philadelphia to start her own school, and then merged that school with the Institute for Colored Youth. She was appointed the head of the primary department and remained there until 1877. She believed education should be open to black women, slave or free. To this end, she started the Female Literary Society which met every Tuesday for “mutual improvement in moral and literary learning.” In addition, she wrote poetry and prose and was a recognized painter, especially of flowers that decorated many of her letters and other writings. Some of her writing was published under two pen names, Zillah and Sophanista, in African American publications of the day.

In 1832, Sarah Douglass had an epiphany and felt she had come out of the lethargy of the black elite to fight the injustices of enslaved women. She threw herself into the activities of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS), petitioning for the end of slavery in Washington, DC, calling for a boycott of slave goods, and working for the end of the slave trade. She took classes at the Female Medical College of PA as the first black student and used her knowledge to run courses for poor black women in the evenings, courses in physiology, personal hygiene, and diseases. Since many of her students were not literate, she used mannequins to teach anatomy and care for their bodies. When she was not teaching, she served on many committees, raising money for welfare donations within the community, supporting William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, and furthering anti-slavery conventions and activities.

She had many friends among the white women members of the PFASS and was often invited to their homes for meetings and social occasions. They loved her delicate paintings that often adorned correspondence back and forth. They enjoyed her manner of presenting her thoughts honestly and appreciated her work for those less fortunate. They respected her teaching skills and her open heart. Angelina and Sarah Grimke were those to whom she poured her deepest thoughts and feelings about her personal life and her discontent with Quakers. Sarah Douglass had watched her mother Grace sit on the “back bench” of the Quaker meeting houses, separated from the other worshipers. As a little girl of six or seven, Sarah was angered by looking at the white Quakers sitting at the ends of this bench and hearing over and over her worship spot called, “the place for colored people” or “the black bench.” One day, she was driven to tears when she heard that her mother had been told not to apply for membership as she would be refused due to her skin color and her feelings would be hurt. Another time, Grace was asked to walk behind a funeral procession with two black servants while the white Quaker women rode in carriages. Later, Sarah would confess that as a child she hoped that the meeting house would fall down so she and her mother would not need to go. While teaching in New York, she was asked by the only white person who spoke to her at the meeting for worship if she did housework. These indignities weighed on her soul. When one of the Grimke chose to sit with her on the back bench, she was chastised.

As an adult in 1833 Sarah took a break from the Sunday service, but would still leave her teaching tasks for the morning midweek meeting for worship. She cherished the silence and listening for the still small voice within. She shared her frustrations with her friends the Grimke sisters, who were not happy with their fellow Quakers and encouraged her to speak out. At a request from William Bassett, Sarah Douglass wrote about the incidents of discrimination she and her mother had suffered and about the terrible emotional stress on her brother which contributed to the illness that would take his life. She refused to give individual names as she feared reprisal, but also expressed forgiveness. Her letter was printed but not published in the US. The Grimkes, however, wrote a letter to Elizabeth Pease that was published. The response from the Quaker community was almost complete silence. Change did not occur during Sarah Douglass’ lifetime, but she gave the Quaker community a gift of truth that is only recently begun to be appreciated.

Margaret Hope Bacon gave a lecture at Pendle Hill in 2016 about Sarah Mapps Douglass and the move among Quakers to deal with white privilege and the race question in today’s monthly meetings. The Friends Journal has had a recent issue dealing with this movement. At a symposium in Westport MA on the 100th anniversary of Paul Cuffe’s death, Vanessa Julye, co-author of Fit for Freedom Not for Friendship, spoke about the history of Quakers and the African American community and the need for the former to develop a real relationship with the latter, not carry on the myths of a past of good works but non-relationship.

I am hopeful as I sit in the library at Friends Community School, watching the diverse students pass in the halls, interacting with each other as children are wont to do, open and spontaneous. I look forward to next September when Angela Garcia, a black educator, will take over from a beloved Larry Clement. I smile as I access African American poetry books into the 7/8th grade library collection. We are taking baby steps forward.

Questions for consideration:

  • What do you think Philadelphia was like when Sarah was born in 1806, 30 years after the Revolutionary War? Find some books in the library about the new United States of America.
  • Sarah’s mother Grace was a milliner, a make of hats. Read Thee Hannah by Marguerite de Angeli and see how Hannah felt about her Quaker bonnet and its plainness. How did she want it to look? What happened in the story to change her mind? Talk about something she wanted to wear and why and if you changed your mind.
  • Why was Sarah Douglass so unhappy with her Quaker meeting? Do things happen at your school or church that are hurtful to you because of who you are? Can you speak your truth as Sarah did?
  • What changes do you think should be made to help get rid of injustices in your communities? How can you be a part of those changes?
  • Why is hope so important to all of us?


  • There is one YouTube video on Sarah Mapps Douglass done by Colgate University in 2015.
  • A Curriculum written by members of Princeton Friends Meeting on Paul Roberson, Douglass’ grand nephew, has a chapter on the Bustill and Douglass families that has information and classroom suggestions on Sarah Mapps Douglass.
  • Margaret Hope Bacon’s lecture at Pendle Hill in 2016 is available through FGC Books and Pendle Hill.
  • Books such as Philadelphia Quakers and the Anti-Slavery Movement by Brian Temple

#5 Paul Cuffe: Quaker Pragmatist, Faithful Philanthropist

It’s Black History Month. Despite my thought that stories of African Americans who have enriched our lives throughout American history should be shared every day, I’m going to recognize several men and women whose stories are especially important to me. In my Quaker world of the moment, this is especially relevant. The January issue of Friends Journal includes some soul searching articles about the relationship or lack thereof between Quakers and African Americans since the founding of our country. I read it and then spent time reading, reflecting, and bouncing ideas and feelings off a small group of F(f)riends whom I trust. To be honest, I present Paul Cuffe to you readers with a little fear and trembling, lest I not do him justice. Often forgotten, only recently celebrated, Paul Cuffe needs to be known.

In 1759, Paul Cuffe was born on Cuttybunk Island, the southwest Island of the Elizabeth Island archipelago off the coast of Massachusetts near the present city of New Bedford. His father, Kofi, had been brought to America from the Akan tribe in present day Ghana and bought by a Quaker, Ebenezer Slocum, and sold later to his nephew John, who freed him two years later. Kofi married a woman, Ruth Moses, of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe and raised ten children with her. Paul was the seventh of these children and learned practical skills of carpentry, farming, and fishing from his father. As a small boy, he spent hours on the rocky shores of the small island, observing the sea – the tides, the currents, and the shoals. He and his younger brother David built small boats and rowed them in and out of the surrounding islands. From both his parents, he learned a spirituality that respected people and the natural world. From them he learned Quaker values of respect for all as children of God, the importance of education, responsibility for family, providing for the less fortunate, speaking the truth, and working hard to develop the gifts given to you. Kofi Slocum’s watchwords were “Give, give, give.” Though his father died when he was about ten, Paul never forgot these lessons.

His father left the 116 acres of farm and time land he had bought near Dartmouth/Westport to Paul and his older brother John, but Paul was pulled to the sea and sailed on his first whaling journey at 16. He learned navigational skills, shipbuilding, and whaling from the sailors and work on the boats. Captured by the British and held in New York as a prisoner for three months during the Revolutionary War, he had time to think about what he was going to do with his future. When he returned home, he used timber from his land and built a small boat to run the British blockade and supply goods to Nantucket and other island towns. He lost a boat and goods on two midnight runs, but was successful on the third and gained a profit. He built a bigger boat, used the business and social skills of the wealthy Quaker trader William Rotch as his model, and set up a hauling, trading, real estate, shipbuilding, and whaling business. He married his Wampanoag wife Anna and had seven children, two sons and five daughters and built a school on his own property to ensure an education for them, their cousins, and any white children who wanted to attend. He partnered with his brother-in-law, Michael Wainer, the Wampanoag husband of his sister Mary, and sailed with his all African American and Native American crews, mostly relatives, north to Newfoundland and south to Philadelphia, Virginia, and South Carolina. Later, he would trade across the Atlantic to England, France, Spain, Portugal, Africa, the West Indies, and the Gulf Coast. Everywhere he went he learned from the people he met and developed a reputation for honesty, intelligence, good common sense, courage and respect for others.

He suffered the insults and prejudices of a black man with humility but no sign of weakness. He encouraged his crew to act with dignity and respect to all. Audacious enough to sail his all black crew into southern ports, he found his presence and that of his crews led to surprise and business acceptance, even kindness on occasion. When he returned from his first trip to the African shores, his ship and cargo were seized in the Newport, RI harbor due to embargoes he was unaware of. He rallied his supporters from the wealthy Quaker shipping trade of New Bedford to Massachusetts politicians to Philadelphia businessmen, both black and white, and went to Washington, DC to see President James Madison. Helped by DC and Baltimore Quakers, he entered the “front” door of the White House, met the president, stated his protest and request, and gained his waiver to recover ship and goods. On a stagecoach to Baltimore, he was verbally attacked by a traveller, who wanted Cuffe’s seat. Cuffe remained silent and seated. When two women entered the coach, he stood and with quiet elegance offered his seat and gestured that his fellow traveller do the same.

As he travelled, Paul Cuffe became more and more concerned about the slave trade, the plight of slaves, and the treatment of free blacks in the North. During his international trading, Paul Cuffe met abolitionists in Great Britain, received a favorable welcome, and saw ways he could build on British efforts in Sierra Leone to stop the slave trade and find a home in Africa where freedmen could not only improve themselves but serve as helpmates and models for the improvement of the African peoples. He hoped to educate Africans for future self-determination and entrance into the nations of the world. Having joined the Westport Friends Meeting in 1808, he prayed for the way to open that he might implement his dream and sought support from his meeting. In 1811 he received a minute of approval to travel to Sierra Leone to explore possibilities. The work of his remaining years was to begin.

Always an organizer and a pragmatist, he set up groups of supporters in the black communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. He worked to raise money to set up a triangular trade between Sierra Leone, Great Britain, and the United States, buy tools and machinery to develop agriculture and small factories, and even start a whaling industry with African sailors he would train to someday man their own fleet. Having met some American and Jamaican freedman, most from Nova Scotia and England, he helped them form a Friendly Society that would plan and lead the local efforts in Sierra Leone. While this was an altruistic venture to improve the lives of others, Paul Cuffe saw ways he could profit from these endeavors, bringing needed capital to finance his humanitarian work in the US, the welfare of his extended family, and the success of his businesses. He could have settled on the front porch of his comfortable home in Westport, but he was called to his dream and he needed to enlist others to join him.

Unfortunately, the War of 1812, the events of slave rebellions in the U.S. and Haiti, the increasing fears of Southern slaveowners, and the imbedded social culture of racial prejudice were to lead to the lack of fulfillment of his aspirations. Accepted as he was, wealthy as he had become, respected and dignified, Paul Cuffe was not able to realize his humanity as a child of God, irregardless of the color of his skin. His dream was co-opted by the American Colonization Society led by many Southern politicians and slaveowners, misunderstood by black leaders like James Forten and Absalom Jones, and hampered by self-serving chiefs and British merchants of Sierra Leone. Sometimes he was naive and did not read people’s desires and intentions correctly. He knew deep inside that those who are to be helped must have the opportunity to be a part of the planning and the leadership of those plants. He had worked hard, given of himself and his worldly goods, been courageous, honest, and strong, served his family and his community. He became ill, tired, and somewhat despondent. He was not to recover. As friends and family gathered at his sick bed in September, 1817, he asked only, “Let me die quietly.” He was buried next to his wife Anna in the cemetery of the Westport Friends Meeting albeit in a far corner.

Possible activities for classrooms:

  • Younger students might want to study the history of whaling, masted sailing ships, and the ports of call Cuffe visited;
  • Older students might want to write stories, plays, or poems about midnight blockade runs, whaling expeditions, or the encounters Cuffe had with President James Madison, the man in the stagecoach, or those from whom he wanted support or money for his dream;
  • Students of all ages might want to talk together and share how Paul Cuffe did, and they themselves might, express the Quaker values he learned from his parents.

Books for reference:

  • Paul Cuffe and the African Promised Land by Mary Gage Atkin;
  • Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution;
  • Paul Cuffe: America’s First Black Captain by Johanna Johnson;
  • Black Quakers, Brief Biographies by Kenneth Ives;
  • A Black Yankee by George Salvador;
  • Black Navigator: Paul Cuffe’s America and the Atlantic World by Lamont D. Thomas(2019);
  • Paul Cuffe: Yeoman by Jeffrey Fortin(2019)

There is also much information on the websites of the New Bedford Public Library, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and Paul Cuffe.

#4 Prudence Crandall Steps Out of Her Comfort Zone

January 28th was the celebration of the third year of “spending my last quarter.” One day Princess, my ten year old granddaughter, asked me, “How old are you, Bibi?”

When I told her 75, she quickly told me, “That’s old, Bibi.”

Since we’d been studying American money, I responded, ” No, I still have another quarter to spend.”

Princess, always with a question, asked, “Well, how are you going to spend it?”

This week’s blog is part of that spending down the last quarter. It tells the story of Prudence Crandall, whose death happened on Jan. 28, 1890 after a life well lived in helping bring education to young women. Born to Pardon and Esther Crandall, a Quaker couple in Hopkinson, Rhode Island in 1803, Prudence had two brothers, Hezekiah and Reuben, and a baby sister, Almira. Often stubborn, sometimes disobedient, even obstinate her older brother Hezekiah thought, but smart, oh so smart. Her blue eyes sparkled with intelligence.

When her family moved to a farm near Canterbury, Connecticut, Prudence was ten or eleven. She was sent to Moses Brown’s New England Boarding School in Providence, Rhode Island, where she learned the same broad range of subjects that the boys learned, excelling and even teaching the younger students as she got older. She was a born teacher! Moses Brown was an abolitionist, so Prudence early came to see slavery as a sin. She, however, had little contact nor few encounters with blacks and thus knew little about their lives and struggles.

That was to change in 1831 when, after gaining a positive reputation as a teacher at a female academy in Plainfield, Connecticut, she was invited to start a similar school in Canterbury. With $500 down and a $1500 loan from the village leaders, she bought a large house facing the village green and opened her school for young white girls. Almira came to help her teach and a young black woman who had lived with her family since she was nine, Mariah Davis, came to be her assistant and manage the household. Prudence had high standards and expectations for her students. The students responded quickly and well to the sisters’ helpful instruction and loving ways. The house was filled with purposeful learning and varied activities. The village was well pleased.

One day a young black woman and friend of Mariah’s, Sarah Harris, came to see Prudence and asked to enroll as a day student. She assured Prudence that her father could pay the $25 per quarter tuition. Sarah had finished the local district school but wanted to learn more in order to start a school for children of color. At first, Prudence put her off and went about her teaching. Mariah was disappointed as she knew how deeply Sarah wanted to teach. Her friend’s father was a successful black farmer who believed education was important for all young people, but especially those of color. He distributed “The Liberator,” William Lloyd Garrison’s newly published anti-slavery newspaper. Mariah was in love with Sarah’s brother Charles and read the paper whenever a new issue came out. She brought the most recent copy to Prudence in support of her friend. As so often happens to Quakers, God moved in mysterious ways. A village leader came by and treated Mariah impolitely. Prudence was so annoyed, she sought out the newspaper and read straight through the night. She was moved by its stories of the brutality, injustices and horrendous struggles of blacks, both slave and free. She turned to her Bible and was led to the verses of Solomon about the call to be a “comforter to the oppressed.”

Prudence was in a struggle with her conscience. She realized during this struggle that she held a prejudice against people of color in spite of her Quaker upbringing. It was a humbling experience, one that led her to want to do something for these people. But what? She had no great wealth, but she could teach! She must be obedient to this call. She would enroll Sarah Harris in her school. Some of her students knew Sarah from the district school and had found her smart, kind, and helpful. Most of them welcomed her and looked forward to the help she could give them in their studies. Their families were not pleased at all. Some even threatened to “destroy ” the school.

Thus began a two year battle between Prudence and her allies and the village leaders and theirs. It began with the villagers not wanting their daughters going to school with a young black woman, no matter that they had done so as children. Prudence was stubborn. She was being obedient to her call and would not back down. The school was hers. She had paid off the loan and was educationally and financially successful. When it became obvious that an agreement could not be reached, Prudence came up with another idea. She would close her present school and open one exclusively for “young ladies and little misses of color.” The villagers were irate. They had lost their school of good reputation and now all of their fears and dislikes of blacks surfaced. They believed that more blacks would come to their village, their habits and behaviors would lower their real estate values, bring crime and even social mixing. Besides, they said, weren’t blacks socially and intellectually inferior?

Prudence went to Boston to see William Lloyd Garrison and gain his support. With his help and support, she travelled to Providence, New York City, and Philadelphia to meet black families and recruit students. A chance encounter with Arthur Tappan, a wealthy silk merchant and philanthropist, led to much needed financial help. When the townspeople sought to use an old vagrancy law and then new legislation, the Black Law, against her and her students, Tappan provided bonds and lawyers. The Black Law made it illegal to teach black students who had not come from Connecticut. Clergymen in nearby towns came to her aid. Samuel J. May, a Unitarian minister, and Levi Kneeland, a Baptist pastor, were ready to help with strategy and offered friendship. On April, 1833, she opened her school with only two students but soon had 17. When the villagers refused to sell her supplies and fouled her well with manure, her family supported the school, bringing barrels of water, food, and other supplies from nearby towns. Even threats of fines and destruction of their property did not stop them. Only Reuben, her younger brother, opposed her. He was studying medicine with the local doctor, Andrew Harris, who lived near the school and refused to treat anyone there. Still, Reuben dropped off fresh fish he had caught to make dinners more varied.

Keeping her school going required courage and commitment of Prudence, Almira, and the students. They displayed it time after time. The villagers waged a campaign of harassment, insults, egg and rock throwing, and even a fire set one night and blamed on an ally of the school Prudence was arrested and jailed, accompanied by her friend Anna Benson. Even though Rev. May and George Benson bailed them out the next day, the action brought much publicity and support from other U.S. and foreign cities. Three trials were held. Prudence and the townspeople were frustrated by the results: the first ended in a hung jury, the second in a guilty verdict, and the third in a dismissal of the guilty verdict on a technicality. The school stayed open. Prudence married a Baptist minister and supporter, Calvin Philleo. Her friends and family were glad for her, but some were not in tune with her choice. The townspeople, thwarted in their legal attempts, took matters into their own hands. In September, 1834, a mob came in the night, broke ninety windows, destroyed furniture, scattered debris about, and frightened the household. Prudence was done. She did not have money for repairs that might be needed over and over again, She did not want to see any of her family or students hurt. She had tried to be obedient to the call. She had stepped out of her comfort zone, been faithful in her action, and led members of her support community to work for justice and equality, and she had tried so hard to forgive and love her attackers. Calvin encouraged her to sell the school and move. Two days after the raid, the school was closed.

Prudence Crandall was only 32 when she left Canterbury, but she was obedient to the call in so many ways for another 55 years. She moved with Calvin to several places until he died in 1874, putting an end to his physical and mental illnesses and sometimes abusive and strange behavior. Along the way, Prudence remained loyal to her friends and former students. She kept in touch with them, recommended books for them to read, and encouraged their service and action in the world. She taught people of all colors, opened schools, worked for temperance, women’s rights, and peace. After Calvin’s death, she moved to Elk Falls, Kansas to live in a small log cabin she built on land given her by her brother Hezekiah. She loved the beauty of the Kansas prairie. Four years before she died in 1890, the people of Canterbury, some of them relatives of her opponents and ashamed of the town’s past behavior, petitioned the state to grant her an annual pension of $400. Their petition was supported by Mark Twain, then a resident of Hartford, Connecticut. Prudence did not see this as charity but a just payment for the debt she incurred. She wrote to Twain to thank him and asked for copies of his books and his picture. He gladly sent them. At 87, she was still seen going to meetings and urging actions to help others. She was no more afraid to die than she was to live. It was January 28, 1890 when she was laid to her final rest in the Elk Falls Cemetery.

In 1994, Prudence Crandall was made the Connecticut State Heroine. Her house on the Green became a museum, now managed by the National Park Service as an Historic Site. A curriculum, called “From Canterbury to Little Rock: The Struggle for Educational Equality for African Americans at https://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/crandall/crandall.htm has excellent information and is easy to use with Gr. 4/5-12. The New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has a play at https://neym.org/qye/fds/lessons/forbidden-schoolhouse. It is good for Gr. 4-8.

Books suitable for elementary/middle school grades :

  • Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander Gr. K-2;
  • Forbidden Schoolhouse by Suzanne Jurmain Gr. 4/5-12;
  • Prudence Crandall: Woman of Courage by Elizabeth Yates Gr. 3-6;

Books for more in-depth teacher research:

  • Prudence Crandall: A Biography by Marvis O. Welch;
  • A Whole-Souled Woman: Prudence Crandall and the Education of Black Women by Susan Stane;
  • Prudence Crandall: Teacher for Equal Rights by Eileen Lucas

Questions for consideration (younger children):

  • What do the pictures in Elizabeth Alexander’s book tell you about Prudence Crandall’s students?
  • How would you feel going away from home to go to school?
  • Because Prudence Crandall was a Quaker, how was her school like yours or how was it different?
  • How would you feel if people called you names or threw things at you when you were walking outside your school? How do you think the girls felt?
  • Rev. Samuel May was a minister in a church, but he loved to tell stories about his childhood. What stories do you like to hear from your parents or grandparents about their childhoods?
  • How do you think the girls felt when their school closed and they had to go home?

Questions for consideration (older children):

  • How do you think Mariah felt when Prudence Crandall did not accept her friend Sarah right away? What did she do?
  • Prudence Crandall had a “struggle with her conscience.” What do you think that means?
  • How would you describe the following: being “called” to do something? being obedient to that call? stepping outside your comfort zone?
  • How do think Prudence Crandall might have responded better to the fears the white villagers had about the black students coming?
  • Define: hung jury, guilty verdict, appealing a verdict to a higher court, and dismissal of a verdict on a technicality.
  • How did Prudence Crandall spend her last two quarters? Why was she no more afraid to die than to live?

See you next week with stories about Paul Cuffe, New England sea captain .

#3 Bayard Rustin: Angelic Troublemaker

It was Christmas time, 1917.  Bayard Rustin went to a community Christmas party.  He loved the music, food, and people!  While there, he saw the town drunk serving himself generously at the table.  He asked his mother Julia why the man was there when nobody liked him. She admonished him lovingly and asked, “Do you know how much courage it took him to come today knowing how everyone feels about him?”  She then reminded him that everyone needed to be treated with dignity and respect. This was only one of the many times that he benefited from the Quaker wisdom of the woman known first as his mother and later at eleven learned was his grandmother.  She was his rock; he returned to her over and over, seeking support and advice.

Yesterday, during M4W at Friends Community School prior to the students’ MLK Jr. March, a query was projected on a screen in the multi-purpose room.  It read, ” MLK used non-violence to work for peace and equality. How can you use non-violence to make this a great generation?” Did the 240 students gathered there know how MLK Jr. came to use non-violence as a strategy in the Montgomery bus boycott?  Did they know that right after his home was bombed when he was chosen head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, he had filed an application for a gun permit? Did they know that armed guards protected his home? I was concerned that they, like so many other Americans, did not know the role of Bayard Rustin in opening MLK Jr’s mind and heart to non-violent direct action as a strategy, but more importantly as a way of life. I was humbled to learn that during Meeting Partners prior to M4W they had talked about just that thing! As Black History Month begins in another week, they will learn even more about this African American, gay Quaker and how he served as a “model to all nations.”

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in West Chester, PA. His birth parents were very young and not ready to start a family, so his grandparents, Julia Davis Rustin and Janifer Rustin decided to raise him as the youngest of a large household of children. They had a large house in an Italian neighborhood, were active in the black community, and always ready to put one more plate on the table or find a bed for any who needed food or a place to stay. Julia Davis had grown up in the Quaker home of Congressman Thomas Butler and attended  and joined Quaker meeting with the family and her mother. She learned to hold each person with dignity and respect and adhered to the Quaker peace testimony and passed these on to her grandson. Thomas Butler ensured that she was educated in Quaker schools and arranged for her to attend an integrated nursing school. Janifer was a steward at the Elks Lodge and often catered for wealthy West Chester families, bringing home tasty, elegant food to his large family. He was a member and leader of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. His whole family joined him there, singing in the choirs, attending and teaching Bible school, and taking part in the social outreach of the church. Bayard’s religious training was rich and solidified his pacifism and love for all humanity from an early age. Though he cherished the silence of Quaker meeting for worship, he also loved the rich musical heritage of the AME community.

Julia also helped him take pride in who he was. When the teacher tried to correct Bayard’s left-handedness in grade school, Julia stood firm and told the teacher that he was left-handed and would remain so. From his sixth grade teacher, Helena Robinson, he learned about the history, accomplishments, and heroes of black culture.  She took her students to homes in West Chester where free blacks and Quakers had supported runaway slaves with stations on the Underground Railroad. She also talked with her students about the lynchings that were occuring in the South, the reasons given, and the ways people were working to end them. She taught them to be proud of who they were and to expand their horizons. His music and choir teacher, Floyd Hart, introduced him to classical music and foreign languages.

Bayard’s best friend was an Italian boy, John Cessna.  John was always welcome at the Rustin household; Bayard was not invited by John’s aunt to come to their home.  The boys met often at the library, open to everyone. When they were younger, the boys went to segregated schools, but in high school everyone went to the same  school.  Bayard was popular and excelled in academics, music, debate, and sports. Once, unfortunately, he was with a bunch of boys who harassed the local Chinese laundryman, calling him names and throwing rocks at his business. The laundryman knew Julia Rustin well and let her know what had happened.  Julia was disappointed and let Bayard know. For two weeks he spent three hours each afternoon after school helping at the laundry for no pay. “Hate is tiresome,” she told him. Bayard would remember always Julia’s disappointment and appreciate her approval. Years later, when he returned home with his gay friends, his family welcomed them and recognized them for who they were.

Outside of the high school, Bayard learned what racial discrimination was all about.  He could not eat with his friends downtown, sit in the same seats at the movie theater, nor play at the YMCA together. Twice Bayard stood up against these prohibitions. While at an away track meet, he was told he could not stay with the other athletes at the hotel. He organized the team and they told the coach that the team would not run if Bayard could not be with them overnight. Since he was important to the team’s success, he stayed in the hotel. His friend John demonstrated at the YMCA over Bayard’s exclusion and went straight to the director.  That time the boys were not successful.  Another time, Bayard sat in a whites only seat at the West Chester movie theater and was arrested for the first time.

Bayard’s organizing and protesting continued at Wilberforce College in Ohio, where his musical talent had won him a scholarship. There he discovered blues and work songs from Southern musical students. With them, he sought to include this music in performances and protested when they were not.  He refused to attend mandatory ROTC training, and he organized a protest of the college’s bad food. He also realized he was gay. After a year, he returned home to Cheyney State, continued to organize and protest injustices, served on an American Friends Service Committee peace brigade to Auburn, NY but left short of graduation for New York City.

In New York, he discovered the richness of the Harlem first opened to him in the teaching of Maria Brock at Gay ES in West Chester. He sang with Paul Robeson in “John Henry,” a short-lived black musical, and then with Josh While and the Carolinians. Bayard joined the 15th St. Quaker Meeting. He took classes at New York City College, joined the Young Communist League, and discovered his skills in organizing. When the YCL dropped its push for racial equality and supported WWII in 1941, Bayard left the party and joined forces with A. Philip Randolph, a strong labor and civil rights activist. They planned a March on Washington to protest the exclusion of blacks from jobs in the defense industry. President Roosevelt was so disturbed by the thought of thousands of blacks protesting in DC but helped by the encouragement of his wife Eleanor to act humanely, he issued an executive order to open the jobs to African Americans. A seed had been planted in Bayard’s garden of change agency.

It would blossom under the teaching of A.J. Muste, who introduced Bayard to the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1942, Bayard took a seat in the white section of a bus going to Nashville, TN. I little white boy reached out to play with his red necktie.  The mother responded loudly and used the N-word. The bus driver came back and asked Bayard to move to the back of the bus.  He refused. He had an epiphany; he must get arrested so the boy would see the injustice of segregated seating.  At the next stop, he was arrested and brutally beaten.  His non-violent response and calm but passionate discussion with the Asst District Attorney Ben West led to his release, “You are free to go, Mr. Rustin.” Another first for Bayard in his southern travels.

Two other stories in the early days of Bayard’s travelling and speaking against racial prejudice and equality for all come to mind. Having been asked to speak in an Ohio church, he arrived and sat in a back pew.  Not being acquainted with him, the hosts and congregation waited for the speaker to come. One of the ministers suggested the group ask the “Negro janitor in the back” if he had seen the guest speaker.  Bayard stood, introduced himself, walked to the front, and spoke passionately to those gathered about peace and racial prejudice.The minister said he would never be the same again.  The second story tells about a train trip to the West when German prisoners of war were being transported to a camp. One of the women on the train complained that the Germans were being given preferential treatment when they were allowed to eat first but separately from the other passengers. She slapped a young prisoner on her way down the aisle. She insulted the young man and refused to apologize. Bayard asked to speak to the German soldier but was refused permission.  He asked the guard if he might sing to show sympathy for him. In his beautiful tenor voice he sang, ” A Stranger in a Distant Land,” a gesture for which he received the young soldier’s thanks.

Much happened to Bayard Rustin in the next 15 years.  He spent three years in Ashland, Ky and Lewisburg, PA prisons for refusing to serve in WWII even after receiving his conscientious objector status. During those stays he used non-violent direct action to protest segregated facilities and activities. The prison officials were only too  glad to see him released “for good behavior.” Back at work, he organized with other staff members the “Journey of Reconciliation” to confirm integrated interstate transportation, he travelled to India to talk with politicians and learn more about direct action, and he served 30 days on a NC chain gang. After that experience, he wrote an article for the NY Post that helped lead NC legislators to ban chain gangs in their state. And, he was arrested on a morals charge in Los Angeles

After a return to NY, months of therapy, and behind the scenes work for the War Resisters League in support of the bus boycott, he was asked to go to Montgomery to convince the boycott leadership to use non-violent direct action. Hesitant he would be seen as a Northern interloper and concerned about the possible negative use of his YCL membership and morals charge arrest, he was persuaded by Muste and Randolph that he was needed.  When he arrived, King’s house had been bombed, armed guards were stationed outside King’s house, the leader had applied for a gun permit, and there were arrest warrants for 125 bus boycotters.  Bayard acted quickly.  He suggested that the bus boycotters put on their Sunday best, gather at one place, and walk together to the police station to turn themselves in. It was a strategy with positive results. Bayard began to share the meaning and use of non-violent direct action with MLK Jr. and the life and teachings of Gandhi.  He explained the Gandhi Way – negotiate to change thethen laws, agitate and educate, demonstrate, demand change, and then use non-violent direct action. Most of all, he spoke passionately about non-violence as a way of life.

Two last things about Bayard Rustin will stay with me always: his organization of the 1963 March on Washington and his gay partner relationship with Walter Naegle.  The March on Washington in 1963 would not have happened without him.  For me, the great disappointment was my departure with my husband Harold for service with the AFSC to Tanzania just three weeks before the August 28, 1963 event. As a Quaker, the most miraculous part of the event was his persuasion of the NY Police Department to allow 100 of its police officers to participate as march marshalls as civilians without uniforms or weapons! Bayard Rustin’s relationship with Walter Naegle came in the last ten years of his life. They loved and supported each other, worked and travelled together, and prepared for Walter’s future and Bayard Rustin’s  legacy. To ensure Walter’s future, Bayard officially adopted him, going through all the visits and paperwork with love and good humor.

He was a true angelic troublemaker, saying “no” to violence, hatred, prejudice, injustice, and refusal to help the poor and marginalized while saying “yes” to love for all humanity, non-violence, cooperation, freedom, and equality. 

Books to read:

  • Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long  Gr. 4-8
  • We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry D. Brimner  Gr. 3-6
  • Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D. Emilio  Gr. 9-12
  • Bayard Rustin: Troubles I’ve Seen by Jervis Anderson Gr. 9-12
  • Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement by James Haskins  Gr. 4-8
  • “Interracial Primer: How You Can Help Relieve Tension Between Negroes and Whites” by Bayard Rustin, a 1941 pamphlet published by the NY FOR office, available online as a pdf

Questions to consider:

1.  What were the childhood influences in Bayard Rustin’s life?  How do they express themselves in specific incidents?

2.  How did Bayard Rustin use his musical talents to further his goals?

3.  What two or three aspects of his Quakerism shaped his life in the world?

4.  Give your own interpretation of “angelic troublemaker.”

5.  Quakers aspire to “let their lives speak” and “be models to all nations.”  What do these mean to you?

#2 Called to Obedience and Led to Action – Lucretia Mott

Welcome back. As I mentioned last week, Lucretia Mott is my favorite Quaker shero. The more I’ve learned about her, the more reasons I want to follow her “model.” With Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, this is a good time to share some of her stories to fill up people’s teaching baskets or tuck up sleeves for pulling out a little magic at just the right time.

Lucretia Mott spent her first eleven years on Nantucket Island. From her time there, she took away her Quaker roots – obedience to the Inner Light expressed in action, and the Nantucket Way – life led with steadfastness, resilience, love of family, and a sense of humor. She and her mother developed a relationship that was deep and supportive. From Anna Coffin she learned to read early, to care for her younger siblings and others, to run a household, and to be responsible for the needs of herself and her family. With her mother’s help, she struggled to curb her tart tongue and control her temper.

From her father, Thomas Coffin, Lucretia gained a sense of just how big the world was. She spent time with him down on the wharf, encountering black, white, Portuguese, Native American, and Cape Verdean sailors and sea captains. She asked endless questions to satisfy her curiosity. When he returned from long voyages to trade for goods in South America or even China or to hunt for whales, she listened to his stories of faraway places and people. When he returned from a three year trip that included capture of his ship, trials to try to recover it, and then the long trek over the mountains to Brazil to get a ship home, Lucretia gained a legacy of courage.

Spending time in Quaker meeting for worship two times a week was difficult for an energetic Lucretia but taught her to search for what God wanted her to do and the need for obedience to answers she received. When Elizabeth Coggleshall, a Public Friend, spoke in meeting for worship one Sunday about living simply, Lucretia was so moved she knew she had to act to show this obedience. Despite her love for the blue bows that adorned her shoes, she hurried home, found scissors, cut off the bows, and convinced her younger sister Eliza to do the same.

Throughout her life, Lucretia expressed her obedience to the call to correct injustices and take care of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized through her spoken ministry in her Quaker community but also in her actions in that community and in the wider world. And, more often than not, she sought to involve her family and friends in whatever action she chose. In this, she was supported by her husband James and her large extended family. They traveled with her to meetings, helped welcome the many visitors who came for support, advice, or participation in her action, joined with her to set up committees, and cared for her when the pace or turmoil was too great. When Lucretia decided to boycott all goods produced by slave labor, she gave up her favorite ice cream and her children their sugar and molasses candy.

Lucretia Mott spoke against slavery in Quaker meetings, so often some of her fellow worshipers admonished her to be quiet. She led women, black and white, to join her in the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Association. This group, not only gathered to call for an end of slavery. They also raised money to help poor families, encouraged the opening of schools for black children, and looked for ways to find jobs to empower self-support. And, she opened the hospitality of her home to black and white alike. When told she would not be seated as a delegate to a World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, she went anyway, speaking out against the exclusion of the women delegates. She traveled throughout England and Ireland raising her concerns, answering her critics, and showing respect for diverse views.

It was during this time she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and became her friend and mentor. Eight years later in 1848, the two joined by three other Quaker women initiated the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in upstate New York, where a Declaration of Sentiments based on the Declaration of Independence was developed and approved. In it was a call of full citizenship for women including the right to vote and a statement of the ways in which women were kept from reaching their potential. This was an issue that was to consume her for the next 30+ years.

Lucretia Mott was a pacifist and believed strongly in non-resistance. Many times she and others in anti-slavery and women’s rights work debated non-resistance especially during the Civil War. When family and friends chose to fight, she was saddened but continued to love and support. President Lincoln opened the ranks of the military to blacks and built a training camp, ironically called Camp William Penn, across from Lucretia’s home outside of Philadelphia. She visited the young recruits who were fighting for a freedom they had never had, spoke to them about her hope that a time would come when wars were not needed, and brought fruits and vegetables from her gardens to enhance their bland food. She enlisted a young friend who had encountered the beauty of black spirituals during her teaching in freedmen’s schools to come and sing for and with the soldiers. When they departed, she sent them off with prayers for their safety.

While her energy declined in her last years, she knew she had been faithful in her duty to be obedient to her Inner Light and to live and speak her truth. She even grew to accept her anger and use it to lead her to action. She had lost many of those she loved, but she was still surrounded by family and friends. At the graveside service, there was a silence. “Who will speak?” Another answered, “No one. The preacher is dead.”

I visited the Seneca Falls Museum some years ago with my husband of 45+ years of service, sometimes together, sometimes individually. It was a very moving experience. The life-sized bronze sculptures of Lucretia and James Mott, standing side by side, with other participants at that 1848 memorable event were awe inspiring to me. It was very special to walk next to them, speak to them as though they could hear, and expect to have one of them ask, “What are you doing in this world?”

Next week, the post will be about Bayard Rustin, the black gay Quaker who mentored Martin Luther King, Jr. and was the prime organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Books to read:

Lucretia Mott: Friend of Justice by Kem Knapp Sawyer – good for younger children
Lucretia Mott by Dorothy Sterling – Gr. 3-6
Lucretia Mott by Gina DeAngelis – Gr 3-6
Lucretia Mott, a Guiding Light by Jennifer Bryant – Gr. 6-8
Valiant Friend – the Life of Lucretia Mott by Margaret Hope Bacon – Gr. 6 – 12

Questions for consideration:

  1. Who are your role models and why do you look to their lives to find guidance?
  2. When you think something is right or wrong, do you speak up? How do you get the courage to speak up? Do you worry about the consequences?
  3. What are some of the ways you can show others that they are respected and valued?
  4. How do you involve others if you have a special project to do away with injustices?
  5. How do you respond to this suggestion, “Love your enemies; practice on your friends and family.”

Welcome to Quaker Stories

quakerhppuseThanks for joining me! My hope is to share my Quaker legacy with others, especially teachers of children and young people. I’d also like to share some ideas for books, lessons and resources.

This blog comes out of an attempt by a dedicated group of people from Adelphi Friends Meeting in Maryland who worked to develop a website, Quakerpedia and got support from the meeting to bring it into being.  That didn’t work out, but my itch still needed to be scratched. This blog is the result.  I am a storyteller and a book lady.  I want to share as many stories of those Quakers who’ve come before me and surround me.   

“…if you don’t know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you are going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.” Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

# 1 January 3rd Was a Special Day!

Lucretia Mott is my favorite Quaker shero. She’s known by most as an ardent abolitionist, a staunch women’s rights advocate, a pacifist, a strong supporter of the working poor, and a free thinker. My admiration is more for her ability to do all these things and still do her own ironing! She was born on January 3, 1793, on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Also born on that date, almost 200 years later, is my daughter, Asha , an evolving Quaker shero.

As a child, Lucretia Mott was known as a bit bossy with her siblings. Still, she was fond of each of them, took good care of them when asked, and felt responsible for teaching them lessons about the people and the world around them. Before the age of ten, she was minding her mother’s store while her mother traveled to the mainland on business and her father was away at sea. Lucretia had a strong sense of justice and integrity which sometimes got her in trouble with her elders when she complained about the way they treated other people. One of her favorite pastimes was gathering her siblings and playmates for “meeting for worship” where she often gave messages heard the First Day before, complete with accurate tone and gesture.. This was a preview of the vocal ministry for which she was known in her adult life.

On one occasion while at the Quaker Nine Partners Boarding School, she convinced her sister to accompany her to the boys’ side of the school, forbidden territory, to secretly carry food to one of the younger boys who had been punished, put in seclusion, and left without his supper. Lucretia was sure that the infraction had been minor and unintended and that the punishment did not fit the misdeed. She had planned well. The two girls slipped over to the boys’ dormitory, whispered assurances to the young boy, left their gift, and returned to the girls’ side of campus unseen.

Asha also had a strong sense of justice at a young age. In junior high she raised questions to the principal about a double standard of discipline for the white students and those of color She perceived that he endeavored to keep students divided by race and ethnicity to keep control. In both high school and college, both Quaker institutions, she questioned administrations about the way athletes, mostly minority students, were treated though she trembled at the consequences and worried about her scholarships.

Asha started to attend meeting for worship when she was only six days old . At the age of four or five, she sat quietly in silent worship holding her constant companion of the moment, Knickerbocker. One Sunday she tugged on my sleeve and asked me to share a message. I whispered back, “You can share it.”

“No, Mommy,” she pleaded, “You do it. Tell the people that even though Knickerbocker is really an ugly dolly, I love him very much.” I stood and introduced Knickerbocker to the meeting and gave the message from my daughter. That was the first of several “people” messages. Several members spoke to her with appreciation for her message. Her “people” messages were followed by a series of Sundays when either she or her friend Talita called for the singing of “God Is Love”. The adults of meeting tenderly complied. After five or six weeks, the girls no longer made that request. When asked why she stopped calling for the song, she replied simply, “They know now.”

These stories can be used in classrooms when talking about meeting for worship, civil disobedience, justice, respect for the “God within”, courage, or integrity. Children can be asked to share how they feel when they think a rule is unfair or what they might do to change the rule.

Since Meeting for Worship is an important weekly practice in most Quaker schools, helping children and young people learn to speak from the silence and feel welcomed to do so is important.

More next week about Lucretia Mott…