Karen Johnson. I'm honored to post the first half of an interview with Allan Austin about his book Quaker Brotherhood:Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950. In his book, Austin traces Quakers' efforts to pursue what they called "the friendly principle of brotherhood," moving our knowledge of the Quakers' work for racial justice into the twentieth century and demonstrating the fascinating ways that race and religion intersected in the long civil rights movement. If this interview intrigues you, you can check out my post from last month in which I compare and contrast Quaker and Catholic interracial activists.
KJ: What were supporters of the AFSC pursuing? Did their goal change over time?
AA: From the start, Quakers in the AFSC wanted to pursue what one activist identified (in 1925) as “the friendly principle of brotherhood,” and this ideal remained a fairly constant, if vaguely defined, goal as the Service Committee sought out ways to engage interracial reform in the United States. But, in part because the principle was fairly amorphous, AFSC programming tended to move in different directions in fits and starts, especially in the first years.
Early activists rushed ahead with programs grounded in a powerful, if simple, idea: interracial interactions would help people of different racial groups better understand each other and, in the process, rehabilitate racist whites. This kind of thinking resulted in the sponsorship of visiting Japanese college students, who could serve as ambassadors or bridges between American and Japanese citizens, as well as efforts to introduce whites to African Americans (via tours of African American life in Philadelphia or the hiring of an African American speaker to hit the road and meet whites). When these projects lost steam after a few years, the Service Committee boldly struck out in another direction, creating the American Interracial Peace Committee, which ambitiously attempted to conquer racism and war simultaneously.