Our research reveals surprising, perhaps to some shocking, levels of ambivalence and ambiguity in Friends’ relationships with African Americans throughout our history. We believe Friends today will see their own thoughts and struggles reflected in those who have preceded us.
The book will reach for the truth about Friends who, even as they strongly advocated for the freedom of enslaved African Americans and education, were reluctant to invite African American membership in their own Society. “They will give us good advice,” wrote Samuel Ringgold Ward, an African American abolitionist who escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad. “They will aid in giving us a partial education—but never in a Quaker school, beside their own children. Whatever they do for us savors of pity, and is done at arm's length.”
Drawn primarily from the wealth of resources available in the work of Quaker historians and others, the book will trace the complex—often arm's length—relationship between Friends and African Americans, moving from the days of William Penn as a slaveholder and John Woolman as the gentle manumission advocate to the difficulties of Grace Mapps and Sarah Mapps Douglass to be seen as equals within the Society of Friends through the struggles of Barrington Dunbar to the present-day. It will tell of Quakers committed to the often-dangerous work of freeing and educating slaves, of the ambivalence surrounding their abolitionist activities, both their participation and hesitancy to participate in the racial ferment of the 20th Century.
Our intention is to offer Friends who struggle with the concern about our lack of racial and ethnic diversity some insight into how it is to be African American who visits, become acquainted with, apply for membership, and remain members of the Religious Society of Friends in a Friends meeting.
We believe that telling the story of our past and listening to the voices of African American Friends in the present will open the way for a Society of Friends that will be a testimony to our belief of that of God in every one.
—Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye