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Bayard Rustin Honored & New York Quakers Apologize to Afro-Descendants

Bayard Rustin

Following up to my Gatekeeper No More post of November 7. That post shared the known history of our school’s winding path to integration which helped Brooklyn Friends School become the racially and ethnically diverse school it is known to be today. A few related and important events occurred last month.

Bayard Rustin, the African American Quaker who was mentioned in my post for his tremendous impact during the Civil Rights Movement, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom November 20, 2013.
New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends just issued its Apology to Afro-Descendants on November 17, 2013, as part of New York Yearly Meeting’s Fall Sessions. This apology addresses and acknowledges many of the benefits Quakers received as a result of the enslavement of peoples (even those which continue to this day). This apology also recommits New York Yearly Meeting to the Equality Testimony by encouraging greater examination of slavery’s lasting effects on Afro-Descendatns and how those effects still impact each of us today.

Two things I neglected to remember in time for Gatekeeper No More:

The other school of New York Monthly Meeting, Friends Seminary in Manhattan, apparently enrolled one African American student in 1892 and its second African American student enrolled fourteen years later. In 1943, Friends Seminary students and alumni began working for integration at Friends Seminary and beyond. Friends Seminary’s first African American student after World War II enrolled in Friends Seminary in 1952 and graduated in 1956.

In the early 1960s, former BFS Principal William J. Meeneghan made an incredibly urgent plea to the Schools Trustees of New York Monthly Meeting to obtain financial aid for one African American student at BFS. This occurred at a time when financial aid at BFS was still almost solely reserved for Quaker students, and when our school’s financial aid was limited to the interest income from “trusts” held by the endowment of New York Monthly Meeting for both BFS and Friends Seminary. Principal Meeneghan felt strongly that BFS did not want to lose this excellent student, but his urgent request that an exception be made to the rules dictating the distribution of financial aid was denied by the Trustees and this student soon left BFS. I believe there were other such requests for exceptions to financial aid guidelines by our former principals, not necessarily for student of color, but this particular request is the only one I have encountered in our school’s archives.