Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950

Article excerpt

Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950. By Allan W. Austin. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2012. Pp. [xii], 257. $55.00, ISBN 978-0 252-03704-7.)

In his new analysis of Quaker interracial activism in the first half of the twentieth century, Allan W. Austin argues that the Quaker belief in living faith through striving to make the world a better place drove the choice to engage racial issues during the turbulent decades between 1917 and 1950. This commitment was neither straightforward nor easy. Austin's purpose is not to celebrate Quaker racial reform work but rather to come to terms with the anxieties and doubts these often reluctant crusaders faced as they tried to square their religious beliefs with secular practice in the contentious realm of interracial reform. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), organized by Quakers in 1917, carried out the majority of the Quaker Brotherhood's work on issues of racial equality and social justice. These initiatives were difficult to organize and challenging to fund. As Austin underscores, the AFSC's interracial program operated at times "in fits and starts," and yet as the book unfolds, we see in striking detail the level of commitment and determination required to generate the racial reforms that Quaker visionaries imagined to be possible, even as early as the 1920s (p. 1).

Austin's work is carefully researched and documented. He has painstakingly mined the rich archival collections of AFSC records in Philadelphia, and his book provides a comprehensive examination of decades of steady civil rights work leading up to the demonstration-based activism of the post-1950 period. From the slogan '"Let's Do Away with Walls'" that captured the optimism of the AFSC's so-called race work in the late 1920s to the organization's more guarded emphasis on '"Intelligent Leadership in the Cause of Racial Brotherhood'" in the 1930s, Austin's narrative allows us to see the important interconnections between Quaker activism abroad and at home and the contradictions that ensued between the relatively straightforward work of helping non-American victims of World War I versus the much more arduous task of opening American society to the full realization of African American citizenship (pp. …

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