Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Alternate Activity 1: Imaginary Debate between Parker and Gannett

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Assign roles in advance of the workshop. Co-facilitators may want to play Parker and Gannett, or especially enthusiastic group members may be invited to take on this challenge. Volunteers will need the leader resource in advance, and time to prepare for the debate.
  • Copy Leader Resource 5 for each actor.
  • Suggest the person playing Parker read Parker's "Speech at the Ministerial Conference" and familiarize themselves with the bullet points for the debate.
  • Suggest the person playing Gannett read Gannett's biography on the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography website and Parker's "Speech at the Ministerial Conference" and familiarize themselves with the bullet points for the debate.
  • Arrange the meeting space with two lecterns or tables for the debaters to use.
  • Feel free to incorporate props or costumes! Ideas include: A fake white beard for Gannett, a toy pistol for Parker, black coats and ascots or scarves in the fashion of the era.

Description of Activity

Invite participants to witness a re-enactment of the Theodore Parker/Ezra Stiles Gannett debate about slavery, as presented by two persons, chosen ahead of time. Explain that the aim of this debate is not necessarily historical accuracy, but rather to present the main arguments from each side with passion and sympathy.

Assign audience roles-some pro-Parker, some pro-Gannett, and some neutral observers. Tell the group each actor will have five minutes to make their case, and then the floor is open for five minutes for questions and rebuttals from the audience. Encourage the group members to ask questions of the debaters make their own statements in support of their assigned position.

After the debate, ask the group to reflect on the experience:

  • What insight did you gain into the characters of Parker and Gannett?
  • Did one side make a better argument than the other? What were the most persuasive parts?
  • What did it feel like to debate the issue of slavery? What emotions ran through the group as the ideas were discussed? Was it hard to take on an anti-emancipation stance?