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General Assembly 2014 Event 215
This event was sponsored by the Liberal Religious Educators Association.
What did Unitarian Universalists (UUs) teach children during the 1940s-50s that led them to join the civil rights movement in the 60s? Weaving together a review of Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) curricula regarding race, the influence of Fahs and stories of early African-American religious educators, Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed will draw lessons for today.
SPEAKER 1: From the University of Chicago and his D.Min from Meadville Lombard Theological School. He served as co-minister, with his wife Donna, in Rochester, New York and Toronto, Canada. Currently, he's affiliated with the faculty at Meadville Lombard, the coordinator of the Sankofa Archive. In addition, he writes and leads and preaches and has spoken at 200 UU congregations and conferences, in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Dr. Morrison-Reed's most recent book, The Selma Awakening, How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, came out this May and is available in the back of the room right now. So please join me in welcoming Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed.
MARK MORRISON-REED: Because you know I went to bed the other day [INAUDIBLE] I got up to the door, turned around, went in to bed. And the rest of them came in, and I had no idea.
So let's see. A real story, actually. You're going to start it. We're going to do a poem. We're going to read this together. Are you ready?
MARK MORRISON-REED: Little (WITH AUDIENCE) dry peanut, I throw you to squirrels. They hide you among the tree roots. They crush you between their teeth. They think you are just a little, dry peanut they pretend to eat. Little, dry peanut, your wonder is hiding within you. The earth as a goddess wrapped in your furry little hand. You sleep a long sleep, like a person dying, alone in the dark. And you knew it not. The days and the nights in order pass by you till you found, at last, the power within you. You reach your soft arms towards the sun. You changed your green stems into flowers. You mothered many, small baby peanuts down in your crib, the earth. Then on a day did you know, little, dry peanut, workers came kneeling as beggars, asking your lives for their lives, wage-earners gather by your miracles to sell in our markets. Little, dry peanut, wrapped in your self-made blanket, some of your secrets are out. I know you, tiny, wee worker of wonders, gatherer of treasures, garden of riches. Little, dry peanut, you make me hungry till I feel my own strength.
MARK MORRISON-REED: Sophia Lyon Fahs, November 1, 1936. Not a great poem.
My wife, Donna, just says it's awful.
It is. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Sophia Lyon Fahs said it came to her in a moment of inspiration. What she was trying to do was capture the children's imaginations. It was autumn, harvest-time, yet in the middle of New York, the city children had at least seen squirrels storing nuts for the winter.
What else is hidden from them? The wonders within the little peanut. Wonders discovered by who? George Washington Carver. The night before, as she thought about Carver, the botanist, scientist, educator, African-American who discovered hundreds of uses for the peanut, she'd written "To A Little Dry Peanut."
During the service, she asked the children if, when they felt deeply, they had ever tried to express it in a poem. November, 1936, at age 60, Fahs was teaching at Union Theological School and serving as the supervisor of the junior department of the Sunday school program at the Riverside Church in New York City.
The congregation, located a mile and a half west of Harlem, was led by the preeminent liberal minister of that era, Harry Emerson Fosdick. Early in the new year, the worship service, in '37, focused on China. It ended with readings from Lao-tze. Japan was mentioned in another service.
The teacher, leading the discussion, told of how the children in the junior department had wished the church to be a place where people of different races would feel at home. The next week, Mr. Balawi Magusa, from Uganda, came and talked about his native land. And the discussion was led by Mrs. Kat Lee, another African.
Later that year, Ernest Kuebler, the director of the Religious Education Department of the AUA, the American Unitarian Association, brought Fahs on board as the children's editor of what then came known as the New Beacon Series. Consistent with the program she had developed at Riverside, the first book of the series, Beginnings of Earth and Sky, represents stories and myths from many cultures.
The book's introduction included a poem. "To All Thoughtful Persons and Patient Scholars." "To all thoughtful persons, black or white, who have stopped to wonder, who ask the great questions, who search for true answers, who try to imagine."
In 1937, her approach, this approach was revolutionary. Fahs goes on to describe the Bushmen before offering their myth of creation. Well, it's followed then by stories of Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese cultures.
A truly multicultural, if subtlety culturally chauvinistic, collection meant to allow the pupil to enter into the wanderings of life of today as well as of other races. Not the same one. When the next book in this series, Martin and Judy, came out in 1939, nothing explicitly was said about race or culture.
Martin and Judy in Their Two Little Houses, I know some people here grew up with this.
MARK MORRISON-REED: Yes? Yes?
OK, there we go. Well it's the first of a three book offering of Unitarian Universalist— it was our Dick and Jane, right? It was our Dick and Jane. Fahs said in book the stories were meant to encourage, in small children, a sensitivity to the intangible values that are basic to all real living, which deserves to be characterized as spiritual in quality.
This was a UU catechism. But instead of responding to a fixed set of questions by regurgitating the answers, questions arose from the stories and experience. And the answers were then searched for. The emphasis was placed on the child's social and spiritual experience.
It was religiously non-doctrinal but not culturally neutral. The kids, the particulars of Martin and Judy's lives were those of middle-class, Euro Americans living in a suburb, with father as the breadwinner. You know, father knows best.
This was the hidden or the null curriculum. There was also a missing curriculum. In the original and in its revision in 1944, everyone was depicted as white, Euro American. In the 1959 extensive revision, there is still no black character in the stories.
However, each of the new volumes includes a single boy with Negro features among the illustrations. Dick and Jane, in contrast, included Pam and Penny, African-American twins but not until 1965.
Race, as an issue, was not entirely missing in the New Beacons Series. In 1942, in Growing Bigger, Elizabeth Manwell and Fahs did this. It was a story entitled "The Engine Dance."
So Roger, the little boy, is accompanying his mother to nursing school, where she volunteers. Beforehand, she tells him that many children there will have dark, brown skin. Negroes, she calls them. It stirs Roger's imagination and his curiosity.
That day, the class is take a special trip. It's to a train station, where one of the children's fathers is a porter on a Pullman car. He shows them around.
Roger likes him. He thinks that perhaps someday he'll be a porter. In the end, Roger feels that he likes the boys and girls with the brown skin. The story is structured so that Roger learned from the children, who were both younger than him and Negro. His message is that you can learn and like anyone.
The "Engine Dance" is an anomaly. More typical is the drawing of a single black child, without reference to race or culture. That's what one finds The Family Finds Out, a book geared to five and seven-year-olds, published in 1951.
It was written by Edith Hunter in the style of, in the spirit of Martin and Judy. An African-American looking boy appears twice. His name is either David or Philip. And he speaks. However, both times, he's paired with the same little white boy. And the reader can't tell which boy is which.
In 1954, the AUA Commission on Intergroup Relations, having evaluated the Association's educational program vis a vis race relations, said the open-minded experiential and reasonable approach to all human relations that we advocate tend to make for flexible thinking and feeling and discourage the formation of stereotyped opinions.
Then nine years later, in The Free Church in a Changing World, the Commission on Education of Liberal Religion saw it very differently. One might ask how typical are Martin and Judy or, more important, how meaningful are they, in their neat, white house in the suburbs, to children whose world includes all the blood and thunder as well as the sophisticated reporting of television.
During that decade, a lot had changed. So what else was the hidden and missing curriculum? Well the curricula bias went way beyond Martin and Judy. It was actually endemic.
Since race is not mentioned in Child of the Son, Pharoah of Egypt in 1939, Joseph and the Story of the 12 Brothers published in 1941, Moses, the Egyptian Prince, Nomad Sheikh, Lawmaker in '42, or Jesus the Carpenter's Son in '45, it left the impression that Middle Easterners were white. Something the illustrations did little to dispel.
Now Africans, however, are not completely absent. The book From Long Ago And Many Lands includes three stories from Uganda. But what about African-Americans? What about George Washington Carver?
Books written for the older ages likewise ignore African-American culture. The Church Across the Street was written by Reginald Manwell and Sophia Lyon Fahs and came out in 1947. It was revised, came out again in 1962.
It's a wonderful book designed to familiarize our youth with other American faith traditions. It includes the Catholic Church, the Latter Day Saints, the Baptists, the Society of Friends, and the Methodists. The chapter on Methodism tells of John Wesley, spends a lot of time with John Wesley, at length, before ending with a six-line paragraph about the existence of the Negro Methodist denominations.
Then they revised it in 1962. And there is single 12-line paragraph about the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. But it fails to tell of Richard Allen.
In 1794, Richard Allen, with the support of Universalist Benjamin Rush, founded one of the first, independent, African-American churches, congregations in the United States. And in 1816, Allen was elected first bishop of the AME Church, the first black denomination.
Neither does the curriculum mention the Nation of Islam. It was founded in, what, 1930. It was widely known by '62. When the revised edition appeared— and this is quite odd— indeed, the year before, 1961, Beacon Press had published the first substantial study of the black Muslims a year before the revision. But there's no sign of that in here.
In 1962, the UUA also published Unitarianism and Universalism, an Illustrated History, written for teenagers by Henry Cheetham. He was the Director of the AUA Department of Education. The book does not mention any African-American Unitarians or Universalists.
The same is true of Those Live Tomorrow, 20 Unitarian Universalist's Biographies. Moreover, while it includes biographies of Benjamin Rush, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, John Murray Attwood, and Clarence Skinner, nowhere does it mention how outspoken and truly, truly radical all these men were on racial justice.
Another book for teens, Tensions Our Children Live With, an anthology of stories raising ethical issues, '59, does include two stories about racial segregation. The last book, the very last book that Fahs wrote for the New Beacon Series was entitled Worshiping Together with Question Minds.
In it, she devoted four chapters to the life of George Washington Carver. Why did it take almost 30 years to begin to bring racial awareness to Unitarian Universalist religious education? Why the inattention to the issue of race throughout the New Beacon Series?
When, in 1964, the UUA Commission on Religion and Race— at first, the UUA Department of Education, Cheetham, its director, who was then the author of the illustrated history, told them that for financial reasons— probably you've heard this recently, "for financial reasons—" the department could not scrap the present stock of books despite the fact that the text and the illustrations were— in his words— pure white.
But that the new materials will reflect the intercultural, interracial situations and the issues of city life, multi-ethnic groups, and poverty would be featured in contemporary, new materials.
So I think Cheetham was ready with an excuse, because the challenge had been issued the year earlier in The Free Church in a Changing World. It had been observed, in that report, that our religious education materials tend to reflect the habits and mores of the urban, suburban middle-class.
So why hadn't these conversations happened sooner? I mean why didn't these conversations happen before then? I mean looking back from here, in 2014, what is hidden and what is missing? Well it's kind of obvious for us. Not so in 1939, not so in 1954, clearly not even so in 1961. It was not.
Was this a reflection of liberal religion's cultural myopia? Was it ignorance of African-American culture? Or was it indifference? Or was it disdain? We can only speculate. What we can examine is the New Beacon Series itself.
And I've given you but a cursory sense of what is there and, more importantly, what was not there. There is another fact. There's only a handful of African-Americans who were professionally engaged in religious education between 1937 and 1960.
In 1948, the Community Church of New York hired Maurice Dawkins, a theological student at Union Theological School, as minister of education. In 1954, the year Dawkins left for Los Angeles to become the minister of one of the oldest community churches in America, William Y. Bell, Jr. began serving as director of religious education and social relations with the Council of Liberal Churches.
The CLC was a transitional organization formed as the Universal Church of America and the AUA moved toward merger. His tenure was quite brief. I think about a year.
Then, in quick succession, Pauline Warfield Lewis became the DRE in the Unitarian Church in Cincinnati. In 1956, Bernice Bell Just— actually William Bell's daughter— was hired as the DRE of All Souls, in DC, in '57. The Rev. William Jones, the assistant minster DRE, right here, in First Unitarian Church, in Providence—
AUDIENCE: Yay. [APPLAUSE]
MARK MORRISON-REED: —in '58 to '60. And then Rev. Lewis McGee serves as interim minister of religious education in Throop Memorial Church, in Pasadena, during the '63-'64 church year. Two women, four men, that's it. Outside this group, the only black professional to serve the UU Church, the actual denomination, was the Rev. Eugene Sparrow.
It would be interesting to know. But I'd love to know what they thought about the New Beacon Series, which at that point was winding down and coming to an end. But given the nature of the positions and the brevity of some, their input, I doubt, was sought. I doubt that we'll ever know what they thought.
I mean there's interesting stories— we'll talk about them— attached to most of these settlements. It is not a surprise the Community Church of New York was first, white Unitarian or Universal congregation to hire a black minister. When Dawkins began to work in the Community Church 1948, it was a continuation of an effort at integration that began in 1910.
Pauline Lewis was the DRE when Bill Sinkford began attending Cincinnati, the congregation, at age 14. Bill writes, it seemed that as soon as mother and I crossed the threshold, we were introduced to the director of religious education, Pauline Warfield Lewis, an African-American woman of about my mother's age. When I read the history of the Liberal Religious Educators Association a few years ago, I was surprised and pleased to see a picture of Mrs. Lewis at one of the first LREDA conferences.
What Bill says next is important for us to remember. I went to the youth group that first Sunday evening and found that, of the 10 or so young people in the group, four were African-American. This church was clearly a place where it was acceptable to be black in the company of whites. When I say I found my religious home that day, the presence of that easy, unforced, natural-seeming diversity was a huge element.
For persons of color to check out a Unitarian Universalist church where there are no dark faces or varied hue, the decision to come again, let alone the decision to stay, must be far more difficult, let alone the [INAUDIBLE]. But how can you be at home when everyone else in the room is white? Are you willing to sign up to be a token? To have one of the religious professionals at the church be a person of color said volumes.
Bernice Just was also at an early LREDA conference, that same one. Notably, she came from All Souls Church, in DC, where the minister, A. Powell Davies, was outspoken, and an outspoken radical in his faith, fighting the racial segregation in Washington DC.
And then in 1958, we had Bill Jones. His settlement in Providence fits the pattern. That is how black, male ministers were first placed in white congregations. Maurice Dawkins in '48, then a failed attempt in 1950, when Eugene Sparrow, who candidated as the assistant minister in Detroit, where he would have been responsible for what? Youth work and campus ministry.
Take note, the first African-American religious professionals hired by white churches and the denomination, Dawkins, Bell, Lewis, Just, Jones, all, everyone of them carried which portfolio? The religious education portfolio.
What does this suggest? Is it that religious education is seen as ancillary and thus is an acceptable arena for black leadership? Behind this story of paucity is one of resistance.
When, in 1947, Pauline McCoo, when she was at teacher's college in Chicago, was teaching Sunday school in First Unitarian Society of Chicago and wished to join the congregation, this young, black woman precipitated a showdown in the board about open membership.
In 1950, in Detroit, the congregation voted against calling Eugene Sparrow. In a sermon delivered in Framingham, in 1970, Charles Ames tells of an incident a few years earlier in which an applicant to teach in the First Parish's nursery-kindergarten school was turned away.
The individual was, quote, more eminently qualified than the white teacher who was hired. But the person responsible, who was not a member of the congregation yet, claimed that the black teacher would not fit in with the other staff. Too late, it was brought to his attention.
Such stories are actually quite hard to come by, gang. People would rather forget than retell them. Not fit in was the excuse in Framingham. Not ready, they said that in Detroit and many other places.
These very blatant examples. What happened in regard to the New Beacon Series, though, where we started, was more subtle. Hymn books used in the UU religious education program are a good example.
So there was a Martin and Judy Songs. It was published in 1948. Fahs writes in the introduction, many religious songs taught to young children are out of harmony with a modern, intelligent approach to life.
The songs it contains are largely European or English but there are also two songs, each, from Japan, [INAUDIBLE], one from Brazil. There are also 20 drawings. One of them is of a little Japanese girl.
This song book is in line with the other works in the New Beacon Series. That is it's culturally diverse in a kind of anthropologic kind of way but offers no songs— it's stunning, actually, when you think about it— from the musical heritage ot African-Americans.
In 1955, Vincent Silliman compiled We Sing the Life. You've got some of these lying around your congregations, I'm sure. Published by the Ethical Cultural Society, it was widely used in our children's program. And it did include two African-American spirituals, "Go Down Moses" and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." And I have talked long enough, so you guys are going to get to sing now. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." Can you read that?
MARK MORRISON-REED: "Sometimes I feel like have no friends," and all well start, OK?
[SINGING "SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD"]
MARK MORRISON-REED: In 1957, a joint hymn book commission, composed of Unitarians and Universalists, was formed. Vincent Silliman, remember. When Hymns for the Celebration of Life came out in 1964 it included not one spiritual, not one gospel, not even a reading by an African-American, nothing.
1964, how? How? How is this possible? Well, Vincent Silliman was raised in Minnesota. He spent much, not all, but much of his ministry in Maine. While his exposure to African-American culture was limited, it was not entirely unfamiliar with or unsympathetic with the cause.
Silliman knew Egbert Ethelred Brown, who ministered in Harlem from 1920 to 1956. He actually had him preach in Hollis. And this is incredible. Before I read that. He's got an autographed copy of Langston Hughes book of poetry, Freedom's Plow, inscribed to, for who? For Vincent Silliman.
He can compile We Sing of Life, and he had AME hymnals in his library. Other commission members had connections to the black community, too. The chair of the commission, Arthur Foote, had worked alongside the Rev. Howard Thurman on the AUA Commission on Intergroup Relations. Thurman was Martin Luther King Jr.'s mentor. He was also a prolific writer, a longstanding relationship to Unitarian Universalism.
Well, you will Tagore. You'll find Lao-tze. You'll find Gibran. You'll find Gandhi. You will not come across Thurman in Hymns for the Celebration of Life. It is a stunning omission, a truly stunning omission. His daughter was working for the UUA— a stunning omission.
White privilege. White privilege. You know what it does? It actually narrows Caucasians' world view is what it does. Those who compile the hymn book, I mean, these were good people. Chris Moore, my choir director, who started the original Chicago Children's Choir, was a member. These were good people, committed to living their values and in favor of racial justice. There's no question about that, about any of them.
But they lived inside a Euro-American cultural hegemony. I mean privilege, it engenders blindness. From inside this cultural bubble, they couldn't imagine African-Americans, who were coming in increasing numbers into our congregation, because usually we were such visible allies in the areas of fair housing, equal access.
They couldn't figure out that they might like to have their culture reflected in UU worship. Nor did it occur to them that Euro-Americans would profit as much from hearing Howard Thurman, Langston Hughes, who did one his first public readings at the Community Church of New York, as from Vera Parker, [INAUDIBLE].
Examine Hymns for the Spirit, published in 1934. Hymns for the Celebration of Life was '64, Singing the Living Tradition, '93, Singing the Journey. And you can see, there's an evolution. Well, you can see the evolution. As hymn meanings changed with each generation, each commission had to wrestle with what to keep and what to introduce.
How much Bible? What about humanism? Keep the amens or not? They could not go too far. They could not get far from the collective comfort level of our congregations if they expected the hymn book to be adopted and the hymns to be sung.
And even though it was published a decade ago, it's routine for me in my speaking. There are congregations that have chosen not to buy Singing the Journey and insist that I choose readings from Singing the Living Tradition.
The dynamic, I think, in the UU religious education world— that's what I'm telling you— it must have been similar, must have been parallel.
Fahs' commitment to multiculturalism and child-centered religious education was progressive. Despite that, the pace of change in regard to race was glacial. A few illustrations and no histories that mention anyone of color.
I mean, actually this is not surprising. There was no scholarship, none. It did not exist. So there's no resource for anyone to turn to. If given the concern was civil rights, there was mounting— I mean, what explains this? Was it indifference? Or was it inertia? Or was it ignorance?
I mean ignorance, however, doesn't explain why it took nearly 30 years, till the end of the series, till the end of her career for Fahs to produce something about George Washington Carver, when she had written the program in 1936. It's a stunning thing to know that she had written program and that poem in '36 and it did not appear until, I think, '66.
How is that possible? It's just one of these mysteries. I mean were the authors afraid that Euro-Americans would not be interested in African-American culture, would find it irrelevant, or perhaps even offensive?
As UU engagement in the civil rights movement grew, how was race and racial justice to be introduced? There were a thousand, thousand little decisions made by well-meaning individuals that left what had, at its onset, been a revolutionary approach mired in the habits and mores of white, urban, suburban middle-class.
There was an exception. The program had nothing to do with the New Beacon Series. For decades, the American Friendship Program was disseminated by the General Sunday School Association of the Universalist Sunday schools, the Sunday Universalist Sunday schools.
The program, from January 26 to February 16, 1947, said— I want you to listen carefully to what the Universalists were saying— our purpose for the American Friendship Program is to recognize the worth of individuals as persons, to appreciate Negro people and their contributions to our country's life, to become acquainted with the work of our Church among the Negros, to do something to foster better race relations.
So it then focuses on the work of Universal Church of America had been doing in Virginia since 1889. The publicity. The publicity given the Suffolk School, through the Sunday schools of this Universalist church prompted lots of hands-on kinds of engagement.
Children saved their pennies, their nickels. They sent them books. They sent writing materials. Some of them went to visit. You will find nothing like it in the Unitarians, nothing, no equivalent in the Unitarians.
After the merger, it was shunted aside. And they let the relationship die. Another, in this case, not so little decision.
So this raises a question. Whether it raises it or not, I'm going to pursue one. Given the dearth of anything about African-American culture in the New Beacon Series and the scant educational resources addressing the issues of race and racial justice, how then do we explain why so many UU youth raised in the '50s participated in the 1964 Mississippi Summer Program?
I mean, you know, over 1,000 young people went South to do voter registration. Among them— and you know, right— Andrew Goodman, who, with the core organizer Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, were murdered.
Well among them were five Unitarian ministers and at least 35 UU youths. First, UU youth, this is the list of who we know that went. UU youth were following the cultural currents of that moment.
Cathy Cade— Cathy's name is up there— wrote, I attended the Memphis Unitarian Church and youth group. The church happened to be across the street from my segregated high school. At the Unitarian church, I found support for my integrationist ideas.
The world was changing and they were changing with it. But where did those ideas come from?
Second, such engagement actually was not new. In 1947, 55 members of the American Unitarian Youth Mohawk Valley Federation participated at a work camp near Syracuse with a group of Negro young people.
In that same year and in 1951, the Unitarian Service Committee run a summer project in Harlem for college students. In 1952, they did the same thing for high school students in Harlem. They also ran a work camp in the Interracial Highlander Folk School in Tennessee.
During the 1950s, the Universal Service Committee ran a Wold Citizenship Camp for junior high school youth in Upstate New York. And 3 of the 15 campers were African-American, while others came from South America and Japan.
Third and most importantly, if they were actually following their parents and their ministers and then taking it a step further? Preaching in 1951, Chuck Gaines said, we were active in organizing fair housing, in the fair housing community in Framingham over 10 years ago.
I can't tell you how many congregations were doing that sort of thing, Barnstable, Maine, Marshfield, Mass., Main Line, Pennsylvania, Ridgewood, New Jersey, Deerfield, Illinois, Kansas City, Kansas, Denver, Colorado, Hayward, California. The list goes on and on, many, many, many.
They were taking leads in organizing for open housing. However, Unitarian Universalists understood civil rights, quite naturally, through the optics of privilege.
As middle-class Euro-American suburbanites, they expected to what? To be able to live where they wanted, to go to school where they wanted, to eat where it suited them, to vote, and to be employed in an occupation commensurate with their education.
It was clearly an injustice that African-Americans could not do likewise. But was it more a matter of fairness and compassion, more about the law rather than being in relationship, about doing for rather than doing with?
Is this what the UU youth noticed? Did they also notice the hypocrisy of living in white suburbs in order to send their children to white schools, to partake of privilege while decrying the system as unjust? And seeing how hypocrisy worked, how could they not go south?
As an educational venue, church school is auxiliary. It supports the members [INAUDIBLE] and parents. Perhaps the way to frame the question is, how was the New Beacon Series reinforcing what was being learned at home and seen in society?
Without casting blame, the reality is Fahs and her colleagues were on the cutting edge of developing religious education programs, but not in regard to race. The series is a testament to how difficult it is when one lives inside a particular cultural milieu, to see one's self freed of one's bubble.
As Susan Lawrence said, recognizing or even welcoming a changing world does not necessarily equip or qualify someone to shepherd that change, even if they deeply want to do so.
So how do children raised in these programs, in the '40s and '50s, become the change agents of the '60s and the '70s? What did they experience there that might later inform their activism?
1960, Vincent Silliman delivered a paper to the Prairie Group. It's a ministers' study group. The topic, which was assigned to Silliman, was this. Love as taught by the liberal churches in the Beacon Press publications religious education.
So he begins his paper by turning to the Prophet Hosea, then to Jesus, then, later, to Hosea Ballou, the Universalist, and then most particularly to the words of William Ellery Channing, his discourse pronounced before the Sunday School Society, "The Great End in Religious Instruction." [INAUDIBLE].
In these, he grounds his thesis that the genius of the liberal church is love. Silliman then turns to Fahs' experiential approach to religious education before reviewing the New Beacon Series beginning Long Ago And Many Lands, Martin and Judy, Church Across the Street.
He says the beginnings was meant to stimulate respect for the different the people who created the stories. And this kind of respect is one ingredient in every kind of love through which our outlook and the concerns of religious liberals are expressed.
The stories of diverse peoples in Long Ago And Many Lands have to do with loves and their meanings. And The Church Across the Street, he writes the motive is understanding, an ingredient of mature love of any sort. In each, he saw a different aspect, a different manifestation of love.
Now Mr. Silliman's analysis helps us. His essay, like the curricula, speaks neither of African-Americans nor or race nor of racial injustice. This suggests it was not the content but the process, the layer undergirded the young UU youths who engaged in civil rights struggle.
Marshall Mcluhan's adage comes to mind. What is it? It's the medium is the message. This is to say the New Beacon Series educational model was even less about its content than its creators imagined. Whether Biblical or multicultural or commonplace, it did not matter.
The overt messages were drawn from everyday life and from faraway cultures. The hidden messages, reinforced notions about the domestic role of women and the understanding that the normal life is lived in white, middle-class suburbs.
The missing was anything about African-Americans not to mention Hispanics. But behind the overt, hidden, and missing messages was a process, a child-centered, open, multicultural, engaging, probing, respectful process the Commission on Intergroup Relations had described as an open-minded, experiential, and reasonable approach to all human relations that tends to make for flexibility in thinking and feeling and to discourage the formation of stereotyped opinions.
Silliman's assignment was to speak about love in religious education. Calling love the golden strand running through Unitarianism and Universalism he said, this golden strand again bright in modern theories, which declare that education is primarily concerned with the child and only secondarily, only secondarily, only secondarily with the body of material which the child is expected to receive and master. It is in this concern with the child that the golden strand is seen.
This process, in emphasizing relationship over content, nurtured children whose inquisitive minds were encouraged to question. Affirmed through questioning, they questioned the status quo. These were children who developed empathy in reading about other peoples and other cultures.
Were they bothered by the incongruity of reciting words about the supreme worth of every person and then observing their elders do so little about it? Emmet Till, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Little Rock, all making headlines.
Seeing what their elders did not, the hypocrisy of affirming racial justice while ensconced in suburbia, they became impatient with the status quo emanating from the congregations in which they were reared.
That is the conclusion that Orloff Miller, the director of the UUA College Centers came back. Returning from Selma, after having been beaten with James Reed, Miller wrote, now I know personally the tremendous sense of frustration felt by those students who have been on the civil rights projects in the South. I know why they believe their academic worth is utterly irrelevant.
For a long time, we, at UUA headquarters, have been part of the liberal establishment in the eyes of our own students. Understood pedagogy. This is to say, those students felt their academic work was irrelevant. It actually places relationship and engagement and behavior before content.
That is why UU camp experience is so powerful. That's why the Universalist American Friendship Program and the old strand of what Silliman spoke of within the New Beacon Series resonate.
By the mid-'70s, the content in the UU curriculum, you know, it was bound to change. Africa's Past Impact on Our Present was published in 1976. The Inventions of Gospel, with its multiple sections on Sacajawea and on Harriet Tubman, came out in '78.
I mean after '65, this change was all inevitable. More important was what Bill Sinkford found years ago when he walked in the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati at age 14. When I say, I found my religious home that day, the presence of that easy, unforced, natural-seeming diversity was a huge element. The presence of African-Americans as a DRE for the youth group eased him into, eased him into being engaged and being what? In relationship. In relationship.
So the lesson for me is this, every curriculum we use contains the explicit and the hidden. Something is inevitably missing. The process and the environment we create for our children, the relationships that are built, the love that we show, and the values that we model with our lives are and will remain the mainstay of religious education. So be it.
SPEAKER 1: I certainly share our deep gratitude for your wisdom and your willingness to continue to teach us. Thank you so much, everyone. I just want to tell you that this lecture series is made possible with funding from the LREDA Endowment Fund. And of course, we'd love you all to join that fund. And there's information in the back. But again, thank you.
MARK MORRISON-REED: So some of that and more is in the Selma Awakening. Actually, so I go through religious education, I go through worship, I go through our governance. But I do the same kind of analysis. Not just [INAUDIBLE], but for each thing, when you look at the analysis, it gets real clear why we are the way we are. It's not about bad intentions. It's about the cultural milieu. The other thing I'm going to— called the— and I think you have this in the bookstore— The Larger Liberty, The Biography of Rev. Dr. Vincent Silliman. So Richard Speck wrote this. And this is available, too, if you're interested. If Vincent Silliman caught your fancy and you want to know a bit more about him, that should be available, too. Thank you.
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Last updated on Tuesday, August 26, 2014.
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