A Quaker Freedom Memorial

Worship and Ministry

A Quaker Freedom Memorial
By Avis Wanda McClinton, Upper Dublin, PA Monthly Meeting

Avis2I am the first African American member of Upper Dublin Monthly Meeting. I would like to tell about the leading that I have had to protect the earthly remains of the fugitives from slavery that have been buried in my Meeting’s graveyard since before the Civil War. When you deal with slavery it always leads to talk of racism, and nobody wants to hear it. But we must be stewards of our Quaker history of anti-slavery activities. “Love one another as I have loved you” said Jesus. It is a little-known reality that the abolition movement was the first time in our history that White and Black people worked together for the common good.

My vision has been create another opportunity for White and Black to work together in my Meeting to hold a memorial service in the Quaker manner to commemorate the lives and deeds of these fugitives from slavery. We joyfully held two Friends memorial services during Black History Month. We came together in reverent silence as a multi-racial multi-generational gathering to share what was in our hearts. We spoke. We cried. We sang. You could tell that the minds and hearts of everyone present were one with God. People are still telling me now, weeks later, that this spirit still resonates in their hearts. I was most astonished when a descendant of the Underground Railroad station masters, Hannah and Thomas Atkinson, came to me and got on her knees and asked my forgiveness for the atrocities of slavery. I forgave her. God made a way for us to talk about race.

I am so grateful to announce that a company has donated a memorial stone to commemorate these fugitives who have never before had a memorial grave marker. Please come out to the dedication of this marker when it is installed soon.

The Meeting has also filed an application to the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission for an historical marker to honor these people.

After each memorial service, we quietly filed out of the Meeting House and walked to the graveyard where the fugitives are buried and just stood there in silent prayer.

Related publications:
The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves
by Andrew Ward

Fleeing for Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railroad as Told by Levi Coffin and William Still
Willene Hendrick (Editor), George Hendrick (Editor)

Slavery and the Making of America
James Oliver Horton, Lois E. Horton

 

kitty-Afterword
by Kitty Taylor Mizuno
Haddonfield Monthly Meeting

I have been deeply moved and changed by working on this project with Avis Wanda McClinton and others. It has made me more aware of the need for White people to listen to people of color in this country when they are able to share with us honestly about the realities of their history and their daily lives in our racially unjust society.

I was not able to be at either of the memorial services, but I did see the video footage of the second service. I was most impressed by the way participants appeared so deeply moved by the occasion. Avis told me that as a Black person, she, her family and other Black people she knows have learned the survival skill of treading carefully and saying what they think White people with power over them want to hear. But at this memorial service all participants seemed to feel safe and able to say what they wanted to say. Some spoke tearfully of never having known that such a hallowed site was right here in their township. Some spoke of feeling the spirits of their ancestors when they walked in the graveyard.

As a White person, I do not feel it to be the spirits of my own ancestors buried in the graveyard. As is the case for many White people, my family can document its history back several hundred years, since before my ancestors immigrated from Europe. I was humbled to be made aware of what a privilege it is to be able to take this knowledge for granted, when I heard Black participants in the memorial service speak of the people buried there as their own ancestors. The brutality of slavery has denied most of them the luxury of being able to trace their roots as I can.

It is incumbent upon us in our privileged position as Whites in this country to listen humbly and work with others to make our society a place where all people have equal opportunity to grow and flourish. We can’t just talk about it. The color line is real in our world. Quakers have been abolitionists, but we have also been slaveholders. We need to take action to eliminate racial injustice in our world in our time.