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  • Timothy Vaughn

Juneteenth: Happy Freedom Day!


19 JUNE 1865--JUNETEENTH: HAPPY FREEDOM DAY!

The BlackQuaker Project is happy to celebrate Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, an important memorialization of African American history commemorating the end of slavery in the USA. Although the Emancipation Proclamation (1 January 1863) outlawed slavery in seceding states during the Civil War and the 13th Amendment (passed on 31 January 1865) officially ended the practice of chattel slavery across the country, its abolition could not be enforced until after the war’s end. Texas, like all Southern states, refused to recognize the Emancipation Proclamation. African Americans in Texas continued to be held in bondage until the arrival of the Union Army and the reading of General Order No. 3 on 19 June 1865, re-proclaiming freedom from slavery. Black communities across the USA have imbued the date with a deep cultural meaning for over a century, claiming it as a holiday in recognition of the ancestral struggle for Black liberation, celebrating with parades, street fairs, musical festivals, and family reunions. As of 17 June 2021, 2 days ago, 19 June has become a federal holiday, JUNETEENTH!

As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us also acknowledge the contributions of African American Quakers to the anti-slavery movement. Benjamin Banneker (9 November 1731 - 9 October 1806) was a friend of Friends, free African American, astronomer, surveyor, and mathematician. Banneker corresponded with Thomas Jefferson as he was writing early drafts of the Declaration of Independence, and later, petitioning him to recognize racial equality.

Cyrus Bustill ( 2 February 1732—1806), an ancestor of Sarah Mapps Douglass and Paul Robeson, was a founding member of the Free African Society. Early in life, he refused to marry and have children as he did not want to bring them into slavery.

William Boen (1735 - 1824), Mt. Holly, NJ, escaped enslavement. He petitioned to join the Religious Society of Friends for four decades, putting pressure on the Religious Society of Friends to allow more people of color into its body. His applications were deferred until 1814.

Paul Cuffe (17 January 1759 - 7 January 1817) was a New England Quaker philanthropist, ship captain, and Pan-Africanist. He served jail time after protesting his inability to vote by refusing to pay taxes, constructed an interracial school for his children, guaranteed the construction of the Westport (MA) Friends Meetinghouse, and built trade connections between Sierra Leone, in West Africa, and the USA. Most important, he organized efforts for enslaved Africans in the USA to return to freedom in Africa.

Elizabeth (1766-1866, last name unknown) was a Methodist minister who attended Quaker worship and received support from Friends in defending her right to minister as a woman. She established a school for Black orphans.

Sojourner Truth (1797 - 26 November 1883), broke free from slavery and successfully sued for custody of her son who had been sold to an Alabama slave owner. She was an active speaker before Black and white audiences, regarded as an honored orator who traveled throughout the various states on behalf of Black Freedom and women’s rights. There is a statue of her in Northampton, Massachusetts, among many others throughout the USA, celebrating her anti-slavery activism.

Sarah Mapps Douglass (9 September 1806 - 8 September 1882), a prolific educator, author, and abolitionist, published in various anti-slavery journals. She encountered racial prejudice in the Religious Society of Friends, being forced -- like her Quaker mother, Grace Bustill Douglass -- to sit in segregated seating on the back bench in Philadelphia’s Arch Street Meeting. She was a founding member of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

Robert Purvis (1810-1898) was an abolitionist and chair of the General Vigilance Committee, which coordinated operations of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. While not a Quaker, he, like Sojourner Truth, had close ties to Friends. He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and served as president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society from 1845-1850.

You will find additional information on these Friends, friends of Friends, and other Black Quakers in Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights, edited by Harold D. Weaver Jr., Paul Kriese, and Stephen W. Angell (Philadelphia: Quaker Press of Friends General Council, 2011).

For those discovering Juneteenth in recent years, we encourage reflection on both the long efforts towards ending slavery and the many horrors of White Supremacy that have followed. This includes not only the Jim Crow laws and practices that followed enslavement, but also the razing of numerous Black communities (such as the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma), the discrimination of African Americans in the GI Bill, particularly in the areas of home ownership and access to education, and historical racist medical practices (most notoriously the Tuskegee Syphilis Study), to name a few examples. As Juneteenth becomes more visible outside of the Black community as a federal holiday, we hope to see further recognition and memorialization of important acts of Black and other resistance to oppression in USA, African American, and world history.

What does the celebration of Juneteenth mean to you and your community? How long have you been aware of the holiday’s importance? Please comment below or write to us at theblackquakerproject@gmail.com with your comments and questions.

To learn more about how Retrospective Justice can be practiced to establish accountability for past acts of oppression against African Americans, please read our Pendle Hill pamphlet, Race, Systemic Violence, and Retrospective Justice: An African American Quaker Scholar-Activist Challenges Conventional Narratives by Harold D. Weaver Jr. (Pendle Hill Press, Wallingford, PA, 2020). Also see Dr. Weaver’s 2021 Friends Journal article “A Proposed Plan for Retrospective Justice.”

Consider signing up for our mailing list to follow our ongoing work, including the expanding Quakers of Color International Archive.


-- The BlackQuaker Project

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