at the request of the Association
March 1, 2008
In response to President Sinkford's address to delegates at the 2007 General Assembly, the following
responsive resolution emerged from the floor of the General Assembly and was affirmed by delegates
by a wide margin.
"Genocide, slavery, oppression- President Sinkford asked what are our truths? To whom must we be
reconciled? We have many stories to uncover. Only by knowing our truths can we act boldly on our
spiritual journeys. In response to President Bill Sinkford's report, I move that delegates begin this work by encouraging their congregations and the UUA to research their own and our association's history: to uncover our links to genocide of native people, to the slave-based economy, and to all types of racial, ethnic, and cultural oppression with a goal of moving toward accountability through acknowledgement, apology, repair and reconciliation, and that they report on their progress at GA 2008 and 2009."
Following the General Assembly, the critical task of truth-seeking was begun at the UUA, with
leadership provided by Tracey Robinson-Harris, Director of Congregational Services, and David
Pettee, Ministerial Credentialing Director. We immediately recognized the scope of researching nearly two hundred years of history involving predecessor organizations of the Unitarian Universalist
Association. As a first step, we engaged a researcher to conduct a survey of existing materials and
sources identified by prior historians and to highlight further possible areas of research. From the
outset, we recognized that recovering these stories and capturing in detail all the competing narratives
and truths was an endeavor that no one person could ever fully complete.
We are deeply grateful that Gordon Gibson agreed to take up this challenge. Since every researcher
brings a bias to their work that reflects their life experiences, we respect and appreciate his wisdom in
acknowledging the lens that influenced his opinions about what he found and how he understood what he learned. Gordon's research reflects his best efforts to reveal stories that, while seemingly long past, still influence how we behave today. We hope that others will be inspired to continue Gordon's
research and help us all move closer to repair and reconciliation.
An Initial Review of the Unitarian Universalist Association Record
In line with the responsive resolution at the 2007 General Assembly this is an initial attempt to
research the history of the Association and its predecessor organizations with regard to links and
complicity with the genocide of native people, with slavery and the slave-based economy, and with all types of racial, ethnic, and cultural oppression past and present. I have specifically been asked not to delve into the hundreds of stories of individual congregations, ministers, and lay people. Those stories are important, but they do not speak to the work, for good or ill, of our Association, nor of the
Universalist and Unitarian institutions which preceded the current Association.
The report opens with General Findings, continues with a substantial list of Areas Calling for
Further Investigation, and concludes with an Annotated Bibliography. There are inevitably value
judgments embedded in each of these areas. I have attempted to give a factual basis for judgments
voiced, but I know that my values may affect which facts I take most seriously.
Those reading the report should know that the author is a retired Unitarian Universalist
minister, much of whose career touched on issues of civil rights and racial justice. He is a white male
who was born and raised in the border south, and he has served congregations in both the south
(Mississippi) and the north (Massachusetts and Indiana). His work in denominational history has dealt primarily with issues of race and racial justice, and also with early Universalist and feminist Judith Sargent Murray.
The various Universalist Conventions that for many decades served as the decision-making and
governing bodies of Universalism in America from the late 18th century and through most of the 19th
century were weak and largely ineffectual organizations in addressing most issues, including issues of
social justice. The American Unitarian Association, founded in 1825, was in some senses even weaker, because it remained strictly an individual membership organization until it began admitting
congregations to membership in 1884. During the period of American history covering the slave trade, a slavery-based economy, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, neither Universalists nor Unitarians had associational or denominational structures that lent themselves to pronouncements on such issues, although each passed at least one resolution that could be read as putting the body on record as opposing slavery. If pronouncement was difficult, energetic program was unlikely and enforceable policy was utterly impossible.
Hence it can be said that both Universalists and Unitarians as religious bodies recognizably
organized on a national level failed to do much in the first 75 to 100 years of their organized existence overtly bad or notably good with respect to the issues under consideration. Certainly there were individuals and congregations who acted. There were local or regional conventions and gatherings which spoke. There were publications which in the public mind were associated with Universalists or Unitarians which took positions, sometimes very strong positions, on these issues. But with the exception of two or three resolutions, no entity which is truly a predecessor to the Unitarian Universalist Association can be labeled as responsible and active in either a good or a bad way.
As the American Unitarian Association became more organized, picking up some elements of
needed structure from the National Conference of Unitarian Churches, it became more powerful and
more purposeful. It had a greater capacity for good, but also for ill. In the late 19th century the
American Unitarian Association sponsored some work with “freedmen,” particularly through
historically Black colleges such as Tuskegee and Hampton. But some programs which the newly
energized and muscular Association undertook had what we now see as negative effects. There
appears to have been a degree of paternalism in the work with historically Black colleges. Beacon
Press between 1902 and 1911 published at least three books advocating eugenics. In the late 19th and early 20th century some work was done on behalf of Native Americans, but some or much of it was
from a strongly assimilationist viewpoint that could now be looked at as an attempt to diminish or
destroy native culture and language. The reluctance to support or settle African American ministers
was clear for many decades; it had faded only somewhat by the time the American Unitarian
Association consolidated with the Universalist Church of America in 1961.
Universalist organization was less structured, less powerful and more decentralized than its
Unitarian counterpart. There was less authority and less staff at the top. Universalist state conventions
could possess considerable vitality and some power; the Western Conference in the upper Midwest was the only comparable entity in Unitarianism. Before the Civil War some Universalist state conventions were on record over a number of years as opposing slavery, but there were other state conventions that chose to stay mute on the subject or even supported slavery.
From the late 19th century onward the Universalists did have one outstanding program that
reached across the racial gap. In Norfolk and Suffolk, Virginia, churches and schools under the
Universalist name and with African American leadership served the African American communities
there. The Jordan School in Suffolk, Virginia, continued in existence beyond AUA/UCA consolidation in 1961. Despite the good work that was done, one must also note elements of paternalism that came out from time to time.
After the formation of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961, race came up as an issue
at the Chicago General Assembly in 1963. Delegates failed to adopt a Bylaw requiring that
congregations not exclude people on the basis of race, with some delegates arguing that congregational polity prevented the Association from dictating membership criteria in local congregations. In order to address concerns that some congregations were exclusionary, delegates adopted (583-6) a resolution forming a Commission on Religion and Race “to explore, develop, stimulate, and implement programs and actions to promote the complete integration of Negroes and other minority persons into our congregations, denominational life, ministry and into the community.”
In 1965 the Unitarian Universalist Association had at least as good a record as any other
majority-white religious body in responding to Dr. King's call for people, especially religious people, to support the voting rights drive in Selma, Alabama. (I was part of the earliest stage of that
involvement.) We need to know what we did, but be sure we don't claim an undue amount of credit for it.
In 1967 the Unitarian Universalist Association attempted to be pro-active in responding to
increasing calls for Black Power and black empowerment, and convened a meeting of Unitarian
Universalists to deal with the issue. At that meeting the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC)
began to form. BUUC called for Unitarian Universalist Association funding of $250,000 per year for
four years of a Black Affairs Council (BAC). BAWA (originally Black And White Alternative and
later Black And White Action) formed as an integrationist alternative to BUUC and BAC. FULLBAC (FULL funding of BAC) was formed by white advocates of BAC. At the 1968 General Assembly in Cleveland such funding was voted by the delegates, and the Black Affairs Council launched its programs. The 1969 General Assembly in Boston saw a great deal of further conflict over the funding of BAC. By 1970 funding for the Black Affairs Council had been reduced and was then eliminated. Many black Unitarian Universalists, including a young man named Bill Sinkford, left Unitarian Universalism, at least for a while, after these events. The issues at the time were contentious. (As a participant in those events I am not going to attempt here to summarize pros and cons. See the Annotated Bibliography for the best extant materials.) What has happened since then, for the most part, is that we have carefully not talked about what happened in 1968-69. What is often called “The Black Empowerment Controversy” is treated as a family secret that we simply don't discuss. This avoidance has complicated or prevented conversations on matters of governance and on issues of race and oppression.
At the 1996 General Assembly in Indianapolis the Racial and Cultural DiversityTask Force,
formed in response to a resolution adopted in 1992 at the Calgary General Assembly, issued the
Journey Toward Wholeness report. I was one who took exception to numerous errors in the time line
in that report. It took two years to get any significant degree of correction to those errors, and almost
six years to do thorough corrections - a pace of change that suggested to me a lack of seriousness and concern for factuality.
Areas Calling for Further Investigation
These areas calling for further investigation are what former Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld might typify as the "known unknowns" -- we know enough to know that these issues are
back there in our history and that we have dealt with them less than we might. In many cases further
exploration of these areas will take us from sweeping generalization to specific acts of omission or
One might start at almost any point on this list. At the moment of this writing, if I were making
the decisions independent of anyone else, I would start at the top of this list and work down.
1. We need conscious, conscientious, and deliberate processing of the empowerment
controversy that emerged in the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1967. There are already some
useful materials available, which are notable for having been little used.
The 2003 video, "Wilderness Journey," provides an accessible description of the issues in the
words of some of the surviving participants. It has the weaknesses of oral history, including misstatements of fact (probably including one by this writer). None of the elected leaders of the Black
Unitarian Universalist Caucus are among those who agreed to interviews. The production of a
discussion guide would make the video more useful. The rate at which material on the empowerment
controversy drops from view with little use is indicated by the fact that a copy was sent to all UUA
District offices, but few made use of it, or can locate their copy. Indeed, a call in 2005 to the office of
the District which had produced it brought the response, "What video?" It is once again available, now in DVD format, from the UUA Congregational Services office.
Victor Carpenter's 2003 book Long Challenge is a conscientious attempt by the most serious
single student of this episode in our history to record what happened and why. It is an indispensable
starting point for any serious work Starr King School for Ministry's In Their Own Words: A Conversation With Participants in the Black Empowerment Movement Within the Unitarian Universalist Association is an oral history of the BUUC, BAC, FULLBAC viewpoint. More material specifically written by those who led BUUC could illuminate their feelings about how the Unitarian Universalist Association responded to them and treated them.
It would be helpful to have more material in print from people who supported the BAWA
approach. A work similar to the Starr King School publication documenting the BAWA viewpoint
would be helpful to a deeper understanding today of the conflicting points of view.
2. We need to examine the advice and practice of the American Unitarian Association and the
Unitarian Universalist Association for choosing sites for churches and fellowships. From at least the
late 19th century onward have we sited new or re-locating congregations in areas that have, over time, limited Unitarian and now Unitarian Universalist accessibility by people of color and people of low to moderate socio-economic class?
During the period when Samuel A. Eliot led the American Unitarian Association, college towns
were selected as promising places to start congregations. This appears to have paid off with some
strong and enduring congregations, but in retrospect that success must be measured against the
pervasive racial segregation in American higher education until at least the 1960s.
During the forty years of my Unitarian Universalist ministry the typical advice from the
Unitarian Universalist Association has been to site our congregations in census tracts with high
educational attainment and other markers of significant social position. Unfortunately, with the history of racial exclusion from higher education, such criteria probably also insure siting congregations in census tracts that are among the least racially diverse.
Jim Loewen, the Unitarian Universalist author of Sundown Towns, has urged us to use Census
data to study our local histories. I am here suggesting that this may also be a useful test for the advice
flowing from the Association to congregations. For example, in locating the Pathways start-up
congregation within the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area, did we factor in racial patterns
adequately and appropriately? The 2000 Census shows the metro area as 54.2% white, 24% Latino,
and 15.9% black, while the 760__ zip code area is 75.3% white, 12.7% Latino, and 6.7% black and the 76092 zip code where the congregation is located is 91.8% white, 3.7% Latino, and 1.4% black.
Do we follow patterns that make it unnecessarily difficult for congregations to naturally be multi-racial and multi-cultural? If so, are there other viable alternatives?
Do we follow patterns that make it unnecessarily difficult for congregations to naturally be multi-racial and multi-cultural? If so, are there other viable alternatives?
3. There is very little available printed material about the Society for the Propagation of the
Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. This is an organization which in today's
system would have been an Independent Affiliate (and was one until recent years), but it was founded
in 1787 (or 1649 according to one source), preceding and then coinciding with a very weak American
Unitarian Association. It was the vehicle through which most of the early Unitarian work with Native
Americans/Indians was done. It also appears to have been a vehicle for some of the work with
freedmen after the Civil War.
Was some of its work relatively liberatory? Would we today look back at its work and see it as
culturally oppressive, an attempt to “civilize” native cultures to look more like the dominant one?
And are there recent accomplishments to celebrate in the work of the short-lived (1995-2002)
Independent Affiliate, Unitarian Universalist Network on Indigenous Affairs (UUNIA), which clearly
sought to ally us to the survival struggles of First Nations?
4. Any retrospective look at the involvement of the Unitarian Universalist Association and its
predecessors in the slave trade, the slavery-based economy, or the destruction of indigenous peoples or their cultures would have to review financial records from the 19th century. I am not aware of anyone having undertaken this, and do not know whether it could be done with any certainty.
5. A systematic review of Unitarian and Universalist journals would be instructive. Mark
Morrison-Reed has pointed out to me examples of both leadership and retrograde opinions in journals
he had happened upon. An unexpected gem of prophetic work was the January 1, 1943 issue of “The
Christian Register,” a journal of the American Unitarian Association, that iwas dedicated to issues of
race and declares, “No single problem in the present war surpasses this one as far as the conscience of Unitarians is concerned.” At the other end of the spectrum was an attack in “The Christian Leader,”
published by the Universalist Church of America, on Marguerite Davis, sister of the Rev. Jeff
Campbell, for her interracial marriage to a white Universalist minister.
6. Similarly, a systematic review of the publishing history of Beacon Press, the Universalist
Publishing House, and Skinner House would be instructive. David Pettee pointed out to me three
Beacon Press and American Unitarian Association books advocating eugenics, and there may be other publications in our past which have advocated for now-discredited theories and approaches. Yet in recent decades our publishing arm has often been ahead of commercial and academic presses in
publishing authors such as James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, and
Cornel West. Our history in this regard is clearly a mixed bag, but the full history is not documented in any source that I have found.
7. The Jordan School was a great service to the African American community in Suffolk,
Virginia. It was supported over many decades by Universalists. The school closed in 1984, and
Unitarian Universalist support was withdrawn by 1977 or earlier. A September, 1994, “Universalist
Herald” article by Prof. Willard C. Frank, Jr., and one chapter in Miller's The Larger Hope are the most complete discussion of the school and mission that I have found. A much closer examination of the record would be instructive. What elements of paternalism were there in some eras of Universalist
support? What caused the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist
Association to drop support of this program? What does the African American community in Suffolk,
Virginia, now remember about our support of their school, and our termination of that support?
8. The Rev. Samuel A. Eliot, President of the American Unitarian Association early in the 20th
century, was especially interested in work with Indians/Native Americans. Before, during and after his A.U.A. Presidency he served on various private and public bodies, including the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, which shaped and implemented government policy toward native peoples. The basic direction of policies he endorsed was to speed the assimilation of native peoples to the dominant culture. Elz Curtiss, described by John Buehrens as our leading scholar on Sam Eliot and race, extols Eliot's scholarship in matters of Unitarian tradition, but notes that in his work with and for native peoples he “was acting in a well-established understanding tracing directly back to the 'praying Indians' of John Eliot (a distant but claimed relation) in Roxbury, MA.” She suggests that “his failure was in . . . worshipping the past without challenging it.” Curtiss says that a great deal of additional work in Bureau of Indian Affairs archives may be called for to understand the nature and extent of Samuel Eliot's work. At the same time, some attention should also be paid to the Native American/Indian work of the succeeding American Unitarian Association Presidents, Louis Cornish and Frederick May Eliot.
9. So far as I have found in the general historical record little has been documented of Unitarian or
Universalist work with freedmen after the Civil War. Like much else of the future work I am
suggesting, this would probably uncover something of a mixed record. What I have found in print in
accessible sources suggests a mixture of altruism and paternalism.
10. Because the record suggests that the Unitarian Universalist Association and its predecessors
have often done their best work when responding to outside pressures, I believe that it is important that we find ways to continue and extend support of “outside but related” organizations. The Sankofa
Archive housed at Meadville Lombard Theological School, for example, serves as an independent
source on the role played by people of color with Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist
institutions. We need to find ways to support institutions and entities like the Sankofa Archive without attempting to control them.
There are two works that I regard as absolutely crucial for an examination of the issues
addressed in this report. They are dealt with first before moving to a more general bibliography.
Morrison-Reed, Mark D. Black Pioneers in a White Denomination Boston: Beacon Press, 1984. This
is the pre-eminent study of at least one aspect of the subject matter at hand. It contains pungent and
challenging observatons such as:
The Unitarian church was not integrated because it chose not to be. The church housed
ordinary people with grand ideas about themselves, and the denomination was run by men who were no different. Often their understanding was limited and their vision too weak to see beyond the status quo or beyond the narrow appeal of the Unitarian church. They were captives of the American caste system. Paternalistic in their racism, Unitarian leaders at the beginning of the twentieth century did not respect the black man. Slowly, over a period of decades, some Unitarians began to see their way out of this, but it was still difficult to break the patterns of segregation that were demographically and socially perpetuated. Even for those who wanted to change, serious risks and major efforts were required. (page 147)
Morrison-Reed documents some of our most painful failures, but still voices hope for us:
We listen so deeply to the stories of others that we begin to know their pain. To open ourselves to that which we know will be painful is an act of strength. And having done this we can act with a commitment and a conviction that are unlike the noblesse oblige the directors of the American Unitarian Association felt toward Brown, unlike the parternalism that motivated Cornish and Eliot, and unlike the guilt that motivates middle-class liberals today. This conviction is tied to our concepts of ourselves. We are struggling for ourselves, but our selfunderstanding has broadened. We realize self-interest goes beyond ourselves and our families. (pages 172-173)
Carpenter, Victor H.. Long Challenge: The Empowerment Controversy (1967-1977) Chicago:
Meadville Lombard Theological School Press, 2003. Vic Carpenter has studied and agonized over the
issues in this controversy for forty years. No other individual has done more on this topic. He is
forthright about the positions he himself supported in the controversy, but attempts to be fair and
factual about other positions. He is eloquent on the need to work out issues still unresolved now:
Lacking resolution, the Empowerment Controversy continues to move beneath the surface of Unitarian Universalism's institutional life, generating disquiet. (page 17)
Or, as Bill Sinkford writes in the Introduction:
The period itself was emotionally loaded, and like many other Unitarian Universalist people of color I lost my church in the aftermath. Many whites perceived us as leaving in anger. The reality is that we left broken-hearted. (page vii)
That time has not only had ramifications for our address of racism. Silences and the telling of partial truths, which were perhaps inevitable if not intentional, have clogged our spiritual and relational arteries. (page viii)
Commission on Appraisal Empowerment: One Denomination's Quest for Racial Justice 1967-1982
Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1983. This was the earliest attempt by a UUA office or
entity to come to grips with the empowerment controversy. It attempted to be full, factual and
balanced. The report was not well received as I recall. I believe that this was because too many people were not ready and willing to abandon the battles of 1968-69 just over a dozen years later. The report is still worthy of attention if one can find a copy. For this inquiry, it is relevant to note a summary statement from the chapter on “Denominational history before 1967.”
It is true that the pages of American history are full of the courageous and inspired acts of individual Unitarians and Universalists who opposed the slave trade, supported the abolitionist movement, played daring and effective roles in the Underground Railroad, worked to better the lot of former slaves, and gave their all to the civil rights struggles of recent times. Yet the institution – the denomination and its Unitarian and Universalist predecessors – has been unable to act effectively and frequently has been unable even to condemn injustice through an official stand. (page 11)
Massachusetts Bay District Wilderness Journey: The Struggle for Black Empowerment and Racial
Justice within the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1967-1970 Boston: Massachusetts Bay District,
2003. The video documentary, noted in the body of this report, is an oral history, with all the vitality
and all the pitfalls of oral history. It is an accessible introduction to the conflicts of the era. It is once
again available, now through the Congregational Services office of the UUA.
Forsey, Alicia McNary (editor) In Their Own Words: A Conversation With Participants in the Black
Empowerment Movement Within the Unitarian Universalist Association Berkeley: Starr King School
for the Ministry, 2001. This is the transcript of a gathering on January 20, 2001, of some of the
surviving BUUC, BAC and FULLBAC participants in the empowerment controversy. There is also a
timeline of events.
Arnason, Wayne and Scott, Rebecca We Would Be One: A History of Unitarian Universalist Youth
Movements Boston: Skinner House Books, 2005. Pages 139-145 describe the youth participation in
the empowerment controversy.
Buehrens, John A. (editor) The Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide Boston: Skinner House Books,
1999. This edition (the third), or any earlier or later edition, is hardly the place to look for definitive,
original historical research. But it is important to note how we present ourselves in this very basic
introduction. The chapter on “Our Work for Social Justice and Diversity,” written by Jacqui James and Meg Riley, notes:
Historically, individual Unitarians and Universalists have been on the cutting edge of social justice advocacy, but the Association itself has been ill-prepared to recognize and acknowledge institutional racism within Unitarian Universalism. Much of our inaction and ambivalence can be traced to some of our institutional characteristics: the emphasis on individual belief as opposed to corporate credos, the emphasis on freedom of conscience as opposed to freedom from oppression, and our widely touted tolerance for the opinions of others, coupled with our failure to understand the need for tolerance with equality. (pages 43-44.)
Ross, Warren R. The Premise and the Promise: The Story of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Boston: Skinner House Books, 2001. The chapter “A Bitter Battle about Race” offers an account of the empowerment controversy that is not the most useful one to rely on. There is no mention that I noticed of the 1963 controversy over race at the Chicago General Assembly.
Bumbaugh, David E. Unitarian Universalism: A Narrative History Chicago, Meadville Lombard
Press, 2000. This brief narrative history includes the actions of individuals and the difficulty of getting institutions to act in the period before the Civil War. There is also a discussion of the empowerment controversy.
Robinson, David The Unitarians and the Universalists Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. This
survey history and collection of brief biographies, is brief but accurate on Unitarians. (“Abolitionism
had struck its deepest roots in New England soil, and Unitarians had their share of leadership in that
movement, even though the denomination as a whole was far from radical on the slavery issue.” page
87) The successes and limitations of Universalism are less well detailed. There is a brief discussion of
the empowerment controversy.
Wright, Conrad (editor) A Stream of Light: A Short History of American Unitarianism Boston:
Unitarian Universalist Association, 1975. This volume provides a great deal of information on the
institutional forms that Unitarianism took and the social stances that it sometimes adopted.
Wright, Conrad Walking Together: Polity and Participation in Unitarian Universalist Churches
Boston: Skinner House Books, 1989. Chapter 6, “Unitarian Universalist Denominational Structure,”
provides useful insights on the development of structures and on the tension between bureaucratic and ecclesiastical functions.
Wright, Conrad Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian and Universalist Practice
Boston: Skinner House Books, 1997. Given the significant impact of governance issues on how we
have or have not been able to act collectvely, this book provides invaluable insights on our evolving
espressed beliefs and actual practices.
Murdock, Virgil E. The Institutional History of the American Unitarian Association: Minns Lectures,
1975-76. Much of the material included would also be found in Congregational Polity and other
volumes. I have not seen elsewhere notice of a resolution passed at the 1843 annual meeting:
Resolved, That the Executive Committee, whenever offering aid to a society in a slaveholding
portion of our country, be directed to accompany such aid with a solemn protest against the sin
of slavery – and that they employ no preacher, who they have reason to suppose will defend that
Cooke, George Willis Unitarianism in America: A History of its Origin and Development Boston:
American Unitarian Association, 1910. This study offers the fullest discussion that I have seen in a
general history of Unitarian involvement with Indians/Native Americans (pages 340-342), and in the
south with freedmen (pages 338-340, 410-411). David Pettee, in following up on a reference in Cooke to the Association's support of the Rev. James Tanner's work with the Ojibway, examined the Quarterly Journal of the American Unitarian Association for 1855 and 1856 and came across fuller information on Tanner and this mission, and also passing references to a missionary sent to settlers in “Kanzas” where there was “strife between freedom and slavery.” It may be important to follow up more with the primary sources suggested by Cooke, than with Cooke itself.
Cassara, Ernest Universalism in America: A Documentary History Boston: Beacon Press, 1971. The
Universalist record of speaking or acting against slavery was not extensive, but the two high points are included here. The Convention of Universalists in Philadelphia in 1790 adopted a recommendation against engaging in the slave trade or holding slaves that is included here (page 182). In 1843 the United States Convention of Universalists met in Akron, Ohio, and passed a strong resolution against slavery that also sought to avoid “measures of indiscriminate denunciation or proscription” (pages 189- 190).
Scott, Clinton Lee The Universalist Church of America: A Short History Boston: Universalist
Historical Society, 1957. Scott notes the affirmation of Social Principles adopted in 1943, including:
“We must recognize that today Americans of Negro, Indian, and Oriental descent, and many not yet
citizens, are suffering from unjust forms of discrimination. We must combat every such form of race
prejudice by practical steps which shall achieve a just status for these our brethren.” (pages 93-94)
Miller, Russell E. The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770-
1870 Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979. Chapters 21 (“We Are All Brethren”:
Universalists and the Abolition of Slavery) and Chapter 22 (Brethren Once More) provide some details on Universalist efforts to oppose slavery, but also the defense of slavery by some southern
Miller, Russell E. The Larger Hope: The Second Century of the Universalist Church in America,
1870-1970 Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1985. Chapter 19 is devoted to “The Norfolk
and Suffolk Missions in the South.” Appendix A includes the 1957 “Declaration of Social Principles”
with clear sections on civil rights and school integration.
Eddy, Richard Universalism in America Volume I, 1636-1800 Volume II, 1801-1886 Boston:
Universalist Publishing House, 1886. The recommendation of the 1790 Philadelphia Convention
regarding “Holding Slaves” is quoted. There are no index entries in either volume which appear
pertinent to this inquiry, but the indexing is not by 21st century standards.
The Commission of Appraisal of the American Unitarian Association Unitarians Face a New Age
Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1936. It is striking that this study and its prescriptions for the future of Unitarian organization do not address issues of race. The Commission had conducted a
survey of 336 Unitarians and notes that three of the five most affirmed personal religious values from
that sample were “sense of human brotherhood,” “struggle to create a just social order,” and “concern
for the betterment of social conditions.”
Stange, Douglas C. Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, 1831-1860 Associated
University Presses, 1977. I have not been able to review this book, but would expect it to confirm what other sources have reported: many individuals speaking from a range of viewpoints, but little in the way of corporate Unitarian action.
McGiffert, Arthur Cushman, Jr. Pilot of a Liberal Faith: Samuel Atkins Eliot, 1862-1950 Boston:
Beacon Press, 1976. Sam Eliot was deeply devoted to the institutions of the Unitarian faith into which he was born. He was the first strong administrator to guide the American Unitarian Association. His leadership had an impact on organization, growth, and services to Indians/Native Americans and freedmen and their descendents. He was notable as an advocate for what he saw as fair treatment of Indians, condemning the Wounded Knee massacre and preventing a land grab of Navaho lands. On the other hand, from our vantage point we would not applaud his 1948 summation of the job of the Board of Indian Commissioners:
Our job was -- and it sounds ironical – to Americanize the original Americans. We sought not sudden transformation but gradual release from tribal habits and government supervision. We sought to preserve the qualities and customs that were a real contribution to American life. (page 259)
This quotation is in Chapter XVI “From Scalping Knife to Can Opener.” Eliot had used that title for
talks he gave all across the country on Indian affairs.