Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Air of Pride

Our lecture this morning started somewhat as a continuation of yesterday's field trip to the American Philosophical Society, as Dr. David Salmanson expanded upon the relations between Thomas Jefferson and the Native Americans. Since Native Americans operated through kinship network, meaning that they treated people as though they were family, they referred to Jefferson as their "Great White Father." However, Jefferson misconstrued this as a sign of respect and deference and continued to try to assimilate the Native Americans into the United States.

Once Dr. Salmanson had finished his lecture, Professor Hanson continued with one of his own about the history of blacks in the United States and introduced us to the topic of the American Methodist Episcopal Church, which we would be visiting later that day. We then welcomed the guest speaker for the day, Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a professor for History and Black American Studies at the University of Delaware, who made us try our hand at extracting information from historical documents, which turned out to be much more difficult than expected. Not only was it hard to read the handwriting, but it was also abrupt and lacked much context. It turned out my group's document was a letter from George Washington, attempting to track down his missing slave, a woman named Ona Judge.

Dr. Dunbar proceeded to tell us the narrative of Ona Judge and how she managed to escape slavery. She first started out by providing further context, that Judge was Martha Washington's slave while the Washington family lived in Philadelphia. When Martha Washington tried to give Judge to her granddaughter, Elizabeth, Judge managed to escape, prompting George Washington to use his contacts to try to recapture her, even exploiting loopholes or even entirely circumventing laws that he himself had passed. Washington seemingly made it his personal mission to get her back, although he died before he could accomplish his objective. Upon his death, he freed all his slaves in his will, allowing Judge to become free. Dr. Dunbar then concluded by saying that even the Founding Fathers had flaws and reiterated her amazement that Ona Judge, despite her marginalized social status as both a slave and a woman, had defied the wishes of George Washington, the president of the United States at that time.

After an hour-long break for lunch, we resumed the discussion in Room 311-F in College Hall. While I do believe that George Washington's pristine reputation as an honest person is somewhat tarnished by this narrative, I do not think that this should detract from his accomplishments. In addition, I reasoned that Washington may have seen this as justice, as she had escaped from him, breaking society's rules, making it fair for him to use any measures he deemed necessary to recapture her. In our discussion, we also gave our opinions on whether the Founding Fathers should have abolished slavery when writing the Declaration of Independence, which would have brought an end to the institution that now mars the history of our nation much earlier. Some of the others argued that it would have saved nearly a century of time and effort and that since they had already rejected many other European practices, they should have just included slavery among those. However, I think that today, slavery is considered abhorrent, an almost unfathomable notion, while back during that time, it was institutionalized and generally viewed as acceptable by society. Furthermore, such a move would have alienated supporters of the American Revolution, which was already divisive enough.

Eventually, we exhausted our time for discussion and had to proceed with the agenda. We took the subway to go downtown, where we walked to the American Methodist Episcopal Church, also known as Mother Bethel, which was founded in 1816 by Richard Allen, a former slave, in Philadelphia. The lady that gave us the tour of the museum told us that Bethel meant "House of the Lord" and the the A.M.E. served as a stop along the Underground Railroad, where church members would bring home the adopted slaves, claiming that they were visiting relatives if asked. She also informed us that the current church is actually the fourth, due to the expansion that they had to accommodate because there was such a large influx of people trying to join the church. It started out with the blacksmith shop before they moved into the rough cast church, followed by the brick church, until they finally acquired this current church.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church
A mural of the four churches
After touring the museum and the tomb of Richard Allen, we climbed to the second floor, where the chapel was. There, another woman told us about what sermons were like. She pointed out the hardwood floors and claimed that people in the vicinity could hear the service because the flooring helped amplify the sound. The church itself was beautiful, with ornate, stained glass windows as well as the neat brickwork that gave it a sense of pride from its rich history.
The tomb of Richard Allen
A decorative anvil
Inside the chapel
After returning to the Quad, I went with Sravan to try and participate in the Sports Day at Penn Park, but when we got there, it didn't seem like anyone from Summer Discovery was there. Disappointed, we headed back, but I decided to go try out the gym, since I hadn't been there yet and because I was already in workout clothes. The building seemed much larger inside than it did from the outside, and I spent a few minutes going up all the floors and seeing what was available on each one, somewhat awed by the amount of different facilities offered inside this single building nestled in the city, including a rock climbing wall and a few full basketball courts. Eventually, I went back down to the basic cardio equipment on the first floor and used the treadmill for about half an hour before returning to my dorm.
The outside of the gym
After hearing about and visiting the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I have great admiration and respect for the founder, Richard Allen, given the circumstances he overcame and the amount of people he was able to inspire and convince to join his church, to the point that the building was not able to accommodate all the members. He was a former slave who bought his freedom by working during a war. He dreamed of having his own church to uplift those oppressed by slavery, using his own experience as an example of being able to move up through society despite his humble beginnings, and was actually able to realize that dream, probably to an extent that surpassed his expectations. I find it difficult to believe that so much history occurred in just this single city and that an inspirational figure like Richard Allen isn't more recognized and I'm glad I got the opportunity to learn about him and visit the result of his work.

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