Swarthmore College Department of

Peace & Conflict Studies Blog

Black History Month and Swarthmore College Exhibits

By Chris Densmore, Curator of the Friends Historical Library

As you walk into McCabe Library, there is a wooden bench and a photograph of the Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse near Kennett Square immediately to your right. The bench is from Longwood. Longwood’s annual meeting, beginning in 1853 and ending in 1940, was a chance to discuss a broad range of reforms. Sojourner Truth attended the organizational meeting in 1853. At a later meeting, she gave a very terse testimony on her peace principles: “You can’t make life, so don’t take it.” So the bench in
foyer of McCabe may have been sat in by Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth Longwood Bench

The last clerk of Longwood was Jesse Holmes, a Swarthmore College professor. Jesse Holmes gave the opening address at the 1927 annual meeting of Longwood saying, “The chief peril to civilization today is found in the arrogance and aggressiveness over the white race toward the colored races and weaker nations.”. The sale of the Longwood meetinghouse funded the Jesse Holmes Lectureship at Howard University.

Next, there is the Elizabeth Powell Bond Rose Garden. Her brother was Aaron M. Powell, the last editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. He began speaking out on slavery after attending an anti-slavery meeting where Sojourner Truth walked down from the podium, pointed directly to the young Aaron M. Powell, and told him he was to become an anti-slavery lecturer. You didn’t mess with Sojourner Truth.

Scott Arb Rose Garden 01-big

A little further up the hill is Swarthmore Friends Meetinghouse, the site of the Swarthmore College Institute of Race Relations. The roster of lecturers at the first two meetings in 1933 and 1934, included African Americans E. Franklin Frazier, W.W. Alexander, William White, Ralph Bunch and James Weldon Johnson. White lecturers for those early meetings included Franz Boas and Melville Herskowitz.

friends_meeting_house

Next time you are in McCabe Library, crossing the Rose Garden or at a Collection in the Friends Meetinghouse, imagine you are in a living history exhibit. Imagine also that you are part of that history,