TeachIn2 Resources - Black UU Ancestors: Four Stories

Thank you to Gail Forsyth-Vail and Jamaine Cripe for their work on creating this resource.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

Life was certainly not easy for young Frances Watkins. She had been born into a Free Black family, but lived in Maryland, where slavery was legal. When she was very young, both her parents died, and she went to live with her aunt and uncle. Theirs was an abolitionist household; they worked to end slavery and also ran a school where Black children, including Frances, received a fine education.

While still a young teen, she went to work as a housekeeper and seamstress in the household of a Baltimore bookstore owner. Her employers encouraged the inquisitive Frances to use their big library. She devoured books, and began to write poetry and essays which appeared in the newspaper. Her writings were published in her first book, Forest Leaves, by the time she was 20 years old.

In 1850, Congress passed a law that allowed slave catchers to kidnap, enslave, and sell free Black people in states where slavery was legal. Her aunt and uncle fled from Maryland to Canada. Frances fled to Ohio, which did not allow slavery, and two years later to Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, she became involved with the Underground Railroad, a movement to help people escaping from slavery.

Through this all, Frances continued to write and to publish books of poetry, much of it against slavery. In time, she became the first Black woman to earn a living through her use of words, living modestly and donating much of her income to helping her uncle’s work with the Underground Railroad. In 1854, the Maine Anti-Slavery Society hired her to travel all over the northeast to make anti-slavery speeches. She became one of the most famous speakers and authors of her time. All kinds of people came to hear her speak, but she made a point of not charging Black people admission.

In 1860, the year the Civil War began, Frances Watkins married Fenton Harper, who already had three children. The two had a daughter together, and Frances took some time off of her writing and speaking to tend to her blended family. A few short years later, her husband died, leaving the young widow responsible for many unpaid bills. Frances Watkins Harper made the difficult decision to send her children to live with relatives and go back out on speaking tours to make money. By then, slavery had ended, and she spoke for women’s rights and for legal and civil rights for Black people. She wrote poems and essays about the experiences of newly freed slaves, struggling to make their way despite the damage done to Black people by slavery. In 1870, she joined the Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. There, she found a community where white and Black people came together, and where many shared her passion for justice.

In many ways, Frances Harper was at home in two different worlds. Although she was used to working with white people, she also kept her connection to the Black community in Philadelphia. She maintained her membership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she taught Sunday School. She wrote three novels specifically for Black people, highlighting family connections and choices about racial identity. She pushed for education and voting rights for Black people. And she encouraged Black children to learn and grow, just as she had been encouraged as a child.

During her long life, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper offered her voice, her words, her money, her labor, and her love to the work of justice-making for her people. She used her voice and privilege as an educated, free Black woman to raise awareness of the plight of Blacks in the United States after the Civil War We honor her memory and place among our UU ancestors.

Sources:

“Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,” by Qiyamah Rahman, in Darkening the Doorways: black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism, edited by Mark Morrison-Redd (Skinner House, 2011)

“Antislavery Poet and Orator Frances Ellen Watkins Harper” in Stirring the Nation’s Heart, by Polly Peterson (UUA, 2010)

“Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, A Poet and Activist,” African American Registry, aaregistry.org

“Minnie’s Sacrifice, Sowing and Reaping, Trial and Triumph: Three Rediscovered Novels,” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, edited by Frances Smith Foster (Beacon, 2000)

 

Suggested Discussion and Activities

Grades K-1

Understanding the story: Help children understand how this story fits into history, explaining that during Harper’s early years she was a free Black person, but lived at a time when there was still legal slavery in some states.

Activity

Say:       A lot of people helped Harper when she was young. Her aunt and uncle gave her a home and a chance to have an education.  Her employer let her use the books in their library.

In turn, she gave her time to helping young Black children in her city, even when she was a famous person who traveled a lot. She taught Sunday school and supported education for those children.

Materials: Drawing paper, markers, crayons

Directions: Invite children to think of the ways they are being helped to grow up wise, and strong, and loving people who work to make the world a better place. Ask them to draw a picture of themselves receiving the help of someone who is helping them. Then, invite them to share their drawings and stories with each other.

Grades 2-3

Understanding the story:

Help children understand how this story fits into history, explaining that during Harper’s early years she was a free Black person, but lived at a time when there was still legal slavery in some states.

Ask them to help you retell the story, making a list together of all the ways she worked to against slavery before the Civil War, and then voting rights and justice for Black people and for women after the Civil War.

Activity

Materials:  Small poster board, markers, pencils, and rulers

Say:

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper wrote and spoke against slavery, but she also took other kinds of actions.  She refused to wear or eat goods that were farmed by enslaved workers, including cotton and sugar. She would not wear clothes made of cotton and or eat food that contained sugar. This is called a boycott.  A boycott has two purposes: 1. Keep yourself from benefitting from a bad system, like slavery. 2. Cost those who are in charge of the bad system money by denying them business.

 Ask, “Has your family ever taken part in a boycott? Are there things you don’t buy, eat or wear because of your UU values?”

Invite them to create posters that might have been posted in Frances Harper’s time, urging people to boycott sugar and cotton to protest slavery. Suggest that they plan the poster out in pencil before using markers.

Grades 4-5

Understanding the story:

Invite children to help you retell the story. Ask them to watch for times when money enters the story in some way. Then, share with children this small part of a powerful speech she gave against slavery (explain that alchemy means the transformation of one thing into another):

A hundred thousand newborn babes are annually added to the victims of slavery; twenty thousand lives are annually sacrificed on the plantations of the South. Such a sight should send a thrill of horror through the nerves of civilization and impel the heart of humanity to lofty deeds. So it might, if men had not found out a fearful alchemy by which this blood can be transformed into gold. Instead of listening to the cry of agony, they listen to the ring of dollars and stoop down to pick up the coin.

Ask,

  • What is she saying here? What is the reason that white “civilized” people are willing to put up with the horror of slavery in their nation?

  • Do you think similar things are happening today? People are ignoring the horrors of injustice in order to make money? (Let responses come from the children)

  • Who is speaking out against these injustices? How are others responding to those who speak out?

Activity:

Materials: A podium or music stand, copy of the excerpt from Harper’s speech.

Let each child who wants to try being Frances Harper, speaking out against slavery.  Set up chairs in the room as though they were an audience for the speaker. Encourage the speaker to put feeling into the spoken words. Ask the audience to imagine themselves hearing such words. What actions might those words lead them to take?

Fannie Barrier Williams (1855 – 1944)

What can religion further do to advance the condition of the colored people? More religion and less church. . . . Less theology and more of human brotherhood, less declamation and more common sense and love for truth. . . . Fannie Barrier Williams, 1893

Fannie Barrier was angry. She was furious. She was embarrassed and hurt and disgusted. She had discovered that no matter how talented, educated, and polite she was, her race made her a second class citizen. In Washington, DC, where she herself was a teacher, she had decided to take a painting class. Then she discovered that her art instructor had erected screens to separate her from the white students in the class. Thinking that things would be better in the North, she had enrolled in a music school in Boston. The principal there had told her she had to leave the school because some of the white students were threatening to quit if they had to go to school with a Black person.

Fannie had a lot of gifts. She was a talented painter and pianist, a good student and a good friend. She had grown up in Brockport, NY, a mostly white town, during and after the Civil War, where she felt accepted as a social equal. It was only when she set out to do something “large or out of the ordinary” in her life that she smacked right up against a system that said she was of less value than white people. And it was when she bumped up against this system, she found her greatest gifts and used them to help people whose lives were more difficult than her own.

Fannie met and married a young lawyer, becoming Fannie Barrier Williams.  They moved to Chicago, where they lived on the South Side, a predominantly Black neighborhood. She made friends with many people, Black and white, who were interested in arts, and music, and discussions about all sorts of things. She also worked hard to help those in her community, especially Black women, who, because of prejudice, were unable to find jobs to help support their families.

Because she had so many white friends, she decided to try to persuade some of them to offer jobs to skilled Black women. She soon discovered that just because a white person was kind to her as an individual did not mean that they would give Black women a chance to prove themselves as workers. One manager, when she asked him to hire Black women, went on and on about how his parents raised him to believe that slavery was wrong. But when she pressed him to offer Black women jobs, he said no, that it would be too disruptive to his business. When she told him that his Christian faith called him to do better, he disagreed.

During her years in Chicago, Fannie Barrier Williams met and became friendly with Jenkin Lloyd jones, minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls. She joined the church and was active in the establishment of the Abraham Lincoln Centre, which served those in need regardless of race.

In 1893, Chicago was all excited. They were going to host a big exposition, which is fancy word for fair. As part of the exposition, her minister organized a World’s Parliament of Religions, a gathering where people from all over the world could learn about each other’s religions. Fannie Barrier Williams discovered that there were no women of color on the planning team, and pushed hard to fix that. Eventually she was invited, not just to be part of the organizing team, but to speak. There, she gave her famous speech, “Religious Duty to the Negro,” saying that churches should do a better job of practicing what they were preaching when it came to justice for Black people. The speech was powerful, and she became famous.

Soon, she was invited to deliver her message everywhere. She became a paid speaker, sometimes pairing her speeches with a piano concert. Fannie Barrier Williams, who gifts and talents were many, and who was herself financially comfortable, never forgot the Black women whose paths were even more difficult than hers. All her life, she fought the racism that kept Black people from the jobs and education they needed to survive and offer their own talents to the world. We honor her memory and place among our UU ancestors.

Sources:

 “Fannie Barrier Williams,” by June Edwards, in Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism, edited by Mark Morrison-Redd (Skinner House, 2011)

“A Northern Negro’s Autobiography,” by Fannie Barrier Williams, The independent, Vol. 57, July 14, 1904

Williams, Fannie Barrier (1855- 1944), article in BlackPast.org

Suggested Discussion and Activities

Grades K-1

Understanding the story: What is it that made Fannie Barrier Williams mad? What did she do about it?

Activity

Materials: small boxes (such as bakery boxes or unmarked small gift boxes), markers, glue, assorted construction paper, fancy papers (such as origami), scissors

Directions:

Ask, “What skills and talents did Fannie Barrier Williams have that she used in her work for justice?”

Say, “Fannie Barrier Williams used her gifts- her skills and talents- for justice.”

Then ask, “What skills and talents do you have that you can use to work for justice?”

Distribute boxes and invite children to imagine that the box holds their gifts- their skills and talents- that can be used to work for justice. Invite them to use the materials you provide to make pictures of their gifts and put them in the box. Ask them to decorate the box and take it home as a reminder that each of them can work for justice, too.

Grades 2-3

Understanding the story:

Materials: Printed chart of “feelings” emoticons or page of “feelings” emoticon stickers

Ask children to help you retell the story (filling in where they are stuck). At points in the story, stop to ask about the way Fannie felt, using emoticons to help children identify feelings.

Then ask:

  • What must it have been like for Fannie Barrier Williams to be one of the few Black people in her town growing up?

  • How must she have felt when she bumped into prejudice and injustice? What did she do with the feelings she felt? What actions did she take going forward?

  • Whose feelings were art teacher and the music school principal and the manager concerned about? Did Fannie’s wellbeing matter to them at all, even though she was also a paying student? Why was their behavior wrong?

Activity

Ask children to act out the story, one scene at a time with different players for each. Invite them to show the emotions of Fannie Barrier Williams and others as they do the acting.

  • When you are finished with the role play, close by asking: “What should we learn from Fannie Barrier Williams about using your feelings to help you do what’s fair and right?”

Grades 4-5

Understanding the story:

Invite children to help you retell the story, pausing to note how Fannie Barrier Williams became more and more confident and skilled in pushing back against injustice over time.

Say: “Most heroes have events in their lives that required them to make a decision to do what’s right? Over time, heroes build up their skills, and become better and better able to meet their challenge.”

Ask: How is Fannie Barrier Williams’ story a hero’s story? What skills and qualities did she have to find in herself? How did she practice them and get better?

Ask: What skills do you have to use in pushing back against injustice? What skills do you need to practice or build up?

Activity:

Work together to create an imaginary heroes exercise class. What activities would help build up courage? Represent it as a physical motion. Add other exercises to your class, representing perseverance, ability to notice what is happening to others, pride in your own identity, and other qualities children may name.

Annie B. Jordan Willis (1893 - 1977)

Before beginning the story, talk with children about Jim Crow laws in the Southern United States. Ask children if anyone knows what Jim Crow laws were. After a response or two, say, “Southern states began passing Jim Crow laws not long after the Civil War. The laws said that Black people and white people must be separated from one another- in schools, restaurants, bathrooms, work places- everywhere. Separation actually meant that Black people would receive inferior treatment, inferior education, inferior seating in public places, and so on. Discrimination and unfair treatment was legal. These unfair laws remained in place until 1965, which is a little over 50 years ago.

The Universalist Mission in Suffolk, Virginia was a family project. The Mission included a church and a school that served Black families in Suffolk, many of whom did not have enough money to get by. The director of the Mission, Joseph Fletcher Jordan, was only the third Black Universalist minister ordained in Virginia. He had been asked to lead a project that the Universalists had begun, but had not consistently supported with enough money due to white prejudices about the value of putting money into the Black community.  Jim Crow laws forced African Americans in the South into low paying jobs and limited their access to education, so Black communities had great need and very few resources. Despite the need, many Universalists felt that the denomination's resources would be better utilized to assist organizations in other countries instead of in Black communities.

The school was a great help to the Black families of Suffolk. Children received a good education that helped them grow their confidence and their skills, despite the harsh day to day conditions their families faced under Jim Crow laws. It provided a safe place for Black children to learn and play while their parents worked. But, there was little money to pay teachers to keep it going. The whole Jordan family pitched in to the help, taking almost no pay in return. And that is how Annie B. Jordan came to be a teaching assistant in her early teens. She would eventually grow into a fine teacher.

In 1917, responsibility for the school in Suffolk passed to the Universalist General Sunday School Association. The Sunday School Association promised to raise enough money for the mission. In return, the school would provide materials to Universalist Sunday Schools to help white children learn respect for African American culture and accomplishments. The relationship between the two organizations went well for a number of years.

Meanwhile, Miss Annie married Richard L. Willis and had a daughter. When her father died in 1920, he left the school in her hands. It was a wise decision to make Miss Annie the school’s principal. She believed in the worth of every child and wanted to use education to lift up the entire community. And she did.

The Depression years were difficult for the Suffolk Mission; families lost jobs and there was terrible hardship. Annie found a way to make sure her school children had at least one good meal a day. Universalist Sunday Schools up North sent clothing, toys, and school supplies in big boxes that were eagerly received by the community. Suffolk schoolchildren climbed trees to cut mistletoe to sell to northerners at Christmastime and sold tickets to an end of year show that was brought the whole community together.

In 1938, the white and predominantly male Universalist leadership decided to change things at the Suffolk school without even discussing it with Miss Annie. Because she had no other source of funds, they forced her to go along with their plans. She was to give up the teaching she loved and to offer social services rather than education. The Universalist leaders decided that the children who attended Suffolk school should go to public school, paying no attention to the fact that the Jim Crow laws meant that public schools for Black children were substandard, and operated with nothing but castoffs and leftovers from the schools for white children. Without talking with Miss Annie, who knew her community best, they decided that their money was better spent on teaching work skills to the poor Black people of the South than to educate them to look beyond they were and imagine a better future. The white, mostly male Universalist leaders began to direct the project from their headquarters in Boston, taking away her authority. They renamed the school, calling it Jordan Neighborhood House. Although she was angry and hurt by the takeover, she kept on for the sake of the children and families. Most of the school was closed, but she managed to keep the kindergarten class.

Over the next 25 years, there were more changes as leadership and direction at Universalist headquarters changed. Miss Annie managed to keep that kindergarten going through it all. She considered each child a future community leader, a diamond in the rough, and her kindergartners returned the love she had for them. In 1969, the UU Service Committee, which had inherited the project, simply decided to end its support for the school altogether. Again, Miss Annie had no say.  Somehow, she found more funds and a way to keep that kindergarten going for another few years until she retired in 1974. She continued to live in the school’s living quarters until she died three years later. Her students, many of whom did go on to lead and serve in their community, remembered the love, kindness, and hope she offered to each of them as she helped them to grow up. We honor her memory and place among our UU ancestors.

Sources:

“Annie B. Willis (1893-1977)” by Willard Frank, in Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism, edited by Mark Morrison-Reed (Skinner House, 2011).

“The Jordan Family and the Suffolk Mission: A Cross-Generational Commitment to Service,” in Missionaries, Builders, and Pathfinders, by Polly Peterson and Gail Forsyth-Vail (UUA, 2014)

“Willis, Annie Bizzell Jordan (1893-1977), harvardsquarelibrary.org

Suggested Discussion and Activities

Grades K-1

Understanding the story: Explain that a mission is a way of introducing your religious values to people who are not already part of your congregations. For the Universalists, that sometimes meant providing support, like food, clothing, and education to people who need help. The people served by the Suffolk mission were Black people who were denied schooling and good jobs because of prejudice.

Ask the children to share what they remember from the story, helping them as needed.

Activity

Materials: craft gems with sticky backs, multicultural crayons, regular crayons, drawing paper, small photocopy (1/4 sheet) of Annie B. Jordan Willis image for each child, glue sticks

Directions:

Ask: “How do you imagine Miss Annie’s classroom looked? Invite children to paste a photo of Miss Annie in the class and to draw her students. Because Miss Annie considered each student a diamond in the rough, children may want to add gems to the drawings of the children.

Grades 2-3

Understanding the story

Explain that a mission is a way of introducing your religious values to people who are not already part of your congregations. For the Universalists, that sometimes meant providing support, like food, clothing, and education to people who need help. The people served by the Suffolk mission were Black people who were denied schooling and good jobs because of prejudice.

In a world where so there was so much prejudice and violence directed at Black people, why was it important that the children had a teacher who was Black? Why was it important that Miss Annie believed that each of them was a diamond, and treated them with kindness and love while she taught them their ABCs?

Activity

Materials: Stick-on alphabet letters, 2 or 3 inches tall, mural paper, markers, magazines that can be cut up.

Using stick-on letters and markers, make an alphabet mural of things that help a child grow strong. For each letter, think of a word that begins with that letter, such as K for kindness, E for excitement, F for food, and so on.

Ask children to help you retell the story (filling in where they are stuck).

Grades 4-5

Understanding the story

Imagine that you are Miss Annie B. Jordan Willis, telling your life story to a child. What parts of it would you especially want to tell about? What problems would you mention? What would you explain about how you solved them?

Activity:

Materials: a few dozen small colored children’s blocks (1 or 2 inch cubes), several decks of playing cards

Directions: Invite children to work in pairs and use the playing cards to build the tallest structure they can. Invite them to use the blocks to help if they wish. Then, just as the children begin to develop their structure, change the rules. Depending on how things are progressing, change them in one of these ways (or in a way that you dream up!):

  • Restrict cards to only red cards or only black cards, or only face cards, or only number cards

  • Disallow use of blocks

  • Limit block use to a certain number or a single color

  • Tell them that the task is to make the sculpture wide rather than tall

Do this a few times, changing rules arbitrarily so that children cannot succeed at the task.

Then, talk with them about how they felt about the rules changes, over which they had no say. Ask them how that relates to what happened with Miss Annie and her school.

Then say:

Imagine that you are Miss Annie, trying to work with Universalist headquarters in Boston to get funding for your school? How would you argue for support based on the UU principles? What arguments would you make for keeping the school, even when headquarters people wanted to replace it with something else?

Invite them to act out a phone conversation between Miss Annie and Universalist leaders. Ask, “If you are Miss Annie, what are you feeling and thinking? What will you say to the people who you are hoping will send you money? What will you not say so as not to offend them?”

Finish by asking: “Why was what happened to Miss Annie and the Suffolk School so unfair?”

Rev. Lewis McGee (1893-1979)

It was 1943, in the middle of the Second World War.  Chaplain Lewis McGee, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, son of a man who had once been a slave, lay in his Army cot in Belgium listening to the sound of bombers flying overhead. He was struggling with faith and thinking about his life. For more than 20 years, he had served small African Methodist Episcopal (AME for short) congregations in West Virginia and Ohio, all the while questioning the doctrines of his church. He was curious about the discoveries of science, and believed that human reason had an important role to play in faith. And he believed that human beings, not an all-powerful God, had to do the work of solving human problems, including bringing justice and equality to Black people. He had discovered a long time ago that he was humanist Unitarian. He had also discovered that Unitarian congregation, which were made up of mostly white people, would not accept the leadership of a Black minister. He had been told that if he wanted to be a Unitarian minister, he’d have to gather his own congregation. As he lay awake thinking about all of this in the middle of a war, he came to a resolution. He had not hesitated to volunteer for the Army at the age of 50 and risk his life. Why should he not go home after the war and give his life to what he believed in?

After he returned home at the end of the war, Lewis McGee made some big changes. He married Marcella Walker, daughter of a well-to-do Chicago African American family. He also entered Meadville Theological School to begin his studies for the Unitarian ministry.

North American Unitarian leaders knew about Lewis McGee. He had been part of humanist groups for a long time and was on the governing board of the American Humanist Association, all the while serving as an AME minister. What they didn’t know was how to convince a white congregation to call him as their minister.

After graduation, Lewis and Marcella charted a bold new course. Convinced that there was a hunger for liberal religion and for Unitarianism among Black people on Chicago’s South Side, they started the Free Religious Fellowship and began to gather a congregation. Both Lewis and Marcella were well liked, and Marcella had a lot of connections in Chicago. She was able to help get the word out, and they grew a congregation that reached nearly 100 members. The members who gathered for the simple Sunday service were mostly Black people, though a few were white, and some were Japanese. The Free Religious Fellowship was supported and encouraged by other Unitarian leaders in Chicago and in the national organization.

After a few years, it was time for Lewis to move on to a new challenge. He impressed the Unitarians of Flint, MI, when he preached for them in early 1957, but when the time came to call him as their minister, he didn’t get the necessary two-thirds of the vote. Although there were five Black families in the congregation at that time, some white members felt that they weren’t ready for a Black minister.

Two years later, McGee became assistant minister at First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, one of two Black ministers called to minister to largely white congregations that year. Finally, in 1961, forty years after he decided that he wanted to be a Unitarian minister, McGee became the minister of the Chico Unitarian Fellowship in 1961, the first Black man called as the senior minister of a mostly white Unitarian Church. 1961. Not all that long ago.

When Lewis McGee decided that he would wait no longer for the Unitarians to make room for his ministry, he made his own room in our denomination’s history. We honor his memory and place among our UU ancestors.

Sources:

“A Dream Pursued: Lewis McGee and the Free Religious Fellowship” in Black Pioneers in a White Denomination by Mark D. Morrison-Reed (Skinner House, 1994)

“History Happened Here” a sermon by Rev. Shelley Page, UU Church of Flint, June 5, 2011

“Marcella Walker McGee” Meadville Lombard Theological School files

Suggested Discussion and Activities

Grades K-1

Understanding the story

What important “first” did Rev. Lewis McGee become? Why did it take so long? What made white people unwilling to accept a Black minister? What is prejudice?

Activity

Materials: copies of Lewis McGee image, scissors, glue sticks, 9 x 12 drawing paper, assorted stickers, and markers

Directions: Ask children to cut out the image of Rev. McGee and paste it in the center of the drawing paper. Then, invite them to use markers and stickers to create a “frame around three quarters of the way around the image. On the bottom of the paper under the picture, have them copy “Rev. Lewis A. McGee.” Make sure that each of them can tell their families why he was an important part of our UU history.

Grades 2-3

Understanding the story

Help children to understand that Rev. McGee had been patient for 20 years waiting for things to change so he could be accepted as a Unitarian minister. Ask:

  • What was it about being in a war that made him decide that he should no longer wait?

  • What did he do to make a place for himself in Unitarianism?

  • Why should we remember his struggle against racial prejudice?

  • Why is Rev. McGee a UU hero?

Activity

Materials:  Sheet of paper with the word “courage” written on it, safety pins or masking tape

 

Directions

Say that Rev. McGee had to find a lot of courage to become the first Black minister to serve a largely white Unitarian congregation.

Play a game of finding courage (hide and go seek). Choose one child to be “Rev. Lewis McGee.” Pin or tape the label “courage” to each of the other children and give them a chance to hide. Rev. Lewis McGee then searches for (and finds) all the courage he needs. The first child discovered then becomes the new Rev. McGee.

Grades 4-5

Understanding the story

Ask children to help you retell the story, explaining any parts that are unclear to them. Then, read with enthusiasm this quote from Rev. McGee, explaining the words they don’t understand.

Millions upon millions of people everywhere are drifting from the old formulations, no longer willing to view the ancient myths as religious truths. They are looking for a vital, modern religion with a personal and social imperative. We may have it! I think we do!

Note: “with a personal and social imperative” means that both individual people and society are important

Ask: How could Unitarians have waited 40 years to call as minister someone who was so enthusiastic about our faith?

Activity

Materials: paper and markers, simple props to represent clothes that one might wear outside in Chicago, such as hats.

Directions

Invite participants to image that they are transported back in time to the 1950s, when Lewis McGee was getting the Free Religious Fellowship started in Chicago. Role play a series of conversations, trying to convince some of the people in McGee’s neighborhood that they should check out the Unitarian religion. Say, “If you are McGee or someone who worked with him, what arguments would you make? If you are someone they are trying to convince, what questions would you ask?”

Make available supplies for making brochures if there are members of your group who prefer to do that.

Debrief the role plays. Then say: “Rev. McGee was reaching out to Black people, who many white Unitarians at the time did not consider to be likely members of a Unitarian congregation.” Ask: “Thinking about your own community, how might you reach out to people in your area who don’t look like typical Unitarian Universalists? What would you tell them about why they might want to check out your congregation? What would you do to make your space welcome to different kinds of people?”