Today in class we explored the narratives of African Americans in colonial Philadelphia. We started with a slideshow by Mr. Hansen that explained the religious backgrounds of slaves who came to America and how their religions developed over time. He explained that Philadelphia had a big free black population by the late eighteenth century.
After this presentation, Mr. Hansen gave another one about Richard Allen, the founder of the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or AME. Allen was born a slave but was able to buy his freedom, and eventually became a minister and founded AME for blacks in the Philadelphia community. We would be visiting the historical church after lunch, which was the first all black denomination in the world.
The best part of the morning was our lecture by Dr. Dunbar, a historian specializing in the stories of black women throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century. To begin, Dr. Dunbar split the room into quarters and have each group a historical document to transcribe and translate. Our document was a letter by George Washington about a runaway slave girl, and the activity was made difficult by his cursive handwriting. There were several words and phrases that we couldn't make out, but we still got the gist, which was that Washington had heard rumors about where his slave was and wanted the recipient of the letter to catch her for him.
Dr. Dunbar gave us forty minutes to finish working with our documents. Then, she brought the class back together to talk about the connecting thread between them. She gave a lecture about Ona Judge, the slave girl that ran away from the Washingtons and eluded capture for her entire life. The story, and the exciting way that Dr. Dunbar told it, was amazing. Dr. Dunbar was really able to paint a picture of the way that Judge felt after living in the north for seven years and preparing to move back to the south to live with a new master. Judge was aided in her escaped by the free black friends she had made in Philadelphia, and went to New Hampshire. She must have had a lot of nerve, because even once found she refused to go back to the Washingtons and lived out her days with the family that she created for herself in New Hampshire.
For a few minutes we talked about the historical implications of Ona Judge's story and George Washington's illegal pursuit of her, which he continued until his death. We were asked, what does it mean when the people who created our laws don't follow them themselves? Then we broke for lunch. When we returned we broke into our discussion groups, where we spent several minutes reading the Declaration of Independence, trying to figure out to what extent the American Revolution was a social justice movement. At 1:00, we left the McNeil building to get on the subway, which took us down to Old City again. We walked to AME, where we were welcomed by a member of the congregation and led to a side room to wait for the rest of our class. Once everyone was present, we split into two groups, and my group went up to the sanctuary while the other went down to the museum.
The sanctuary was hot, with no AC, but it was gorgeous. There were beautiful stained glass windows on each wall, vivid carpeting and rows of dark wood pews. We sat in the pews, and a woman explained to us the significance of each architectural feature. She also told us how AME has grown into twenty two districts and is now and international organization with thousands of members. We then went downstairs into the museum, where we learned that the church we were in was the fourth AME church building on its plot of land. We heard about the pillar of the black community that AME had been, a place for blacks from Philadelphia to come in good times and in bad. AME also served as a makeshift hospital for Philadelphians during the yellow fever outbreak, and as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Class got out at 5:00, at which point I went with my friends Jack and Lizzy to sign up for afternoon activities. The line to do this was insane, but I managed to snag a spot on the trip to King of Prussia mall on Sunday, the second largest mall in the United States. Then, I got out of the crowded lounge where sign ups were being held. My friends and I went to hang out and get dinner, which we ate at a Chinese restaurant near Wawa. We demolished our food; I hadn't realized how hungry I was.
At 10:00, I had a meeting with my RC group about things such as keeping our bathrooms clean and notifications that the program wanted to tell us. We also got to sign up for which movies we wanted to see on our trip to the theatre on Friday. By the end of the meeting, I was getting tired, so I came back to my room to get ready for bed.
It was a busy day, but I'm glad that I got to hear the story of Ona Judge, which really connected with me for some reason. It was also very cool to see AME church, which is such an important symbol for the black community not only in Philadelphia, but all around the world. These experiences confirmed my first impression of the Social Justice Research Academy, which is a very positive thing.