History Matters Series - Missionary Backstories: The Civil Rights Movement in the United States

Thursday, March 30, 2017
Speaker: Owen Miller
M. L'Instant, abolitionist from Haiti, an excerpt from "The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840" by Benjamin Robert Haydon

William Goodell (the abolitionist) was a distant relative of William Goodell (the missionary to the Ottoman Empire) and Lucy Goodale. Like his relatives, William Goodell (the abolitionist) was deeply involved with the Congregational Church, which played a central role in the abolition of slavery in the United States.

In 1833 Goodell founded the New York Anti-Slavery Society and the American Anti-Slavery Society. Over the next three decades, he devoted his life to the cause of destroying the sin of slavery (and incidentally, the sin of racism). His descendants continued this trend. Grandson, William Goodell Frost was the third president of the remarkable Berea College (motto: God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth). It was the first school in the south to be coeducational and racially integrated. Frost was at the forefront of struggles against the Jim Crow system in the South. It was Frost who confronted the Kentucky state legislature when it passed a bill in 1904 to segregate Berea College. Frost and the Berea College administration fought this bill all the way to the Supreme Court.

Over the past decade, the study of missionaries from the United States has grown in leaps and bounds. Much of this work presumes that missionaries were always outsiders to the societies they evangelized however their children often grew up speaking local languages without a trace of an accent, and seeing the world through local lenses. This process of acculturation signals that the work of conversion was often a two-way street, and that the experience of living abroad for several generations profoundly shaped communities of missionaries.

In the Middle East, the American missionaries become involved in activities later associated with the Peace Corps, from building schools to carrying out famine relief. In Hawai'i, the American missionaries were involved in the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and the annexation of the islands to the United States. Finally, in the south of the United States, in the aftermath of the Civil War, missionaries built most of the historically black colleges and struggled against the racism of Jim Crow.

Miller's current research (including sources from the Congregational Library & Archives) brings these strands of missionary history together in the broader framework of world history. Research for his second book follows the story of a single missionary family, the Goodell or Goodale, across three generations from New England to the Ottoman Empire, Appalachian Mountains and Hawai'i.

NEW DATE: Thursday, March 30th
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Register through Eventbrite.


image of M. L'Instant, abolitionist from Haiti, an excerpt from "The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840" by Benjamin Robert Haydon, owned by the National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

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