WHYY-TV’s Movers & Makers: Hidden History features local stories that have resonance with today’s struggles for equality and justice.
On June 11, Hidden History broadcast the often-untold story of the revolutionary abolitionist Benjamin Lay who condemned slavery long before his Quaker peers. WHYY featured filmed interviews with Abington members and the film is available on YouTube.
Benjamin was an 18th century Friend known for his powerful vocal ministry to Abington and other Meetings on the subject of Friends’ use of enslaved laborers in businesses and farms. A vegetarian who eschewed the trappings of wealth, Lay and his wife lived simply, taking up residence in a cave and growing their own food. Benjamin Lay was ultimately disowned by Abington meeting, but the couple continued to be in relationship with the community and were laid to rest in its burial ground after living relatively long lives. The installation of grave maker honoring Lay was the focus of a May 2018 PYM news story.
Historian Marcus Rediker’s 2018 book The Fearless Benjamin Lay provoked new interest in the Lay family. While Abington Meeting has known that Benjamin and his wife Sarah were interred in on the property, the exact location was both unknown and–in alignment with early Quaker traditions–unmarked.
The meeting recognized that Sarah & Benjamin Lay’s dedication to racial equality and witness to the evils of enslaving people was a teachable moment with powerful meaning today. The unveiling of the burial stone and the presence of a commemorative plaque attracted the interest of Philadelphia Public Television station WHYY and prompted the inclusion of Lay in the Hidden History Series.