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Letter to William Basset


Phila [Penn.] December, 1837.

Esteemed Friend.
Your favor of the 7th came safe to hand. It needed no apology. The fact of your being an abolitionist; the friend of my beloved sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the friend of my poor and oppressed bretheren and sisters enti[t]les you to my warmest gratitude and esteem. I thank God that he has enabled you to renounce error and strengthened you to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty. I pray that you may run the race set before you without halting, keeping your eye ste[a]dfastly fixed on the great Captain of our salvation.

The questions you ask me, make me feel my weakness, and in view of the great responsibility that rests upon me in answering them, my flesh trembles; yet will I cast my burden on Him, who is strength in weakness and resolve to do my duty; to tell the truth and leave the consequences to God. I thank you for the "Letter to a member of the Society of Friends". I can set my seal to the truth of the following paragraph, extracted from it. "It will be allowed that the Negro Pew or its equivalent may be found in some of our meeting houses where men and women bretheren and sisters by creat[i]on and heirs of the same glorious immortality are seated by themselves on a back bench for no other reason but because it has pleased God to give them a complexion darker than our own." And as you request to know particularly about Arch Street Meeting, I may say that the experience of years has made me wise in this fact, that there is a bench set apart at that meeting for our people, whether officially appointed or not I cannot say; but this I am free to say that my mother and myself were told to sit there, and that a friends sat at each end of the bench to prevent white persons from sitting there. And even when a child my soul was made sad with hearing five or six times during the course of one meeting this language of remonstrance addressed to those who were willing to sit by us. "This bench is for the black people." "This bench is for the people of color." And oftentimes I wept, at other times I felt indignant and queried in my own mind are these people Christians. Now it seems clear to me that had not this bench been set apart for oppressed Americans, there would have been no necessity for the oft-repeated and galling remonstrance, galling indeed, because I believe they despise us for our color. I have not been in Arch Street meeting for four years; but my mother goes once a week and frequently she has a whole long bench to herself. The assertion that our people who attend their meetings prefer sitting by themselves, is not true. A very near friend of ours, that fears God and who has been a constant attender of Friends meeting from his childhood, says "Thou mayest tell William Basset, that I know that "Friends" appointed a seat for our people at the meeting which I attend. Several years ago a friend came to me and told me that "Friends" had appointed a back bench for us. I told him with some warmth that I had just as lief sit on the floor as sit there. I do not care about it, Friends do not do the thing that is right." Judge now, I pray you, whether this man preferred sitting by himself. Two sons of the person I have just mentioned, have left attending Friends meetings within the last few months, because they could no longer endure the "scorning of those that are at ease, and the contempt of the proud." Conversing with one of them today, I asked, why did you leave Friends. "Because they do not know how to treat me, I do not like to sit on a back bench and be treated with contempt, so I go where I am better treated." Do you not like their principles and their mode of worship? "Yes, I like their principles, but not their practice. They make the highest profession of any sect of Christians, and are the most deficient in practice." In reply to your question "whether there appears to be a diminution of prejudice towards you among Friends," I unhesitatingly answer, no. I have heard it frequently remarked and have observed it myself, that in proportion as we become intellectual and respectable, so in proportion does their disgust and prejudice increase.

Yet while I speak this of Friends as a body, I am happy to say that there is in this city a "noble few", who have cleansed their garments from the foul stain of prejudice, and are doing all their hands find to do in promoting the moral and mental elevation of oppressed Americans.

Some of these are members of Anti-Slavery Societies and others belong to the old abolition School.

While I have been penning this letter living desires have sprung up in my soul that I might "nothing extenuate nor set down ought in malice". Doubtless you know that our beloved A. E. G[rimké] is convalescent. Did all the members of Friends society feel for us, as the sisters Grimké do, how soon, how very soon would the fetters be stricken from the captive and cruel prejudice be driven from the bosoms of the professed followers of Christ. We were lying wounded and bleeding, trampled to the very dust by the heel of our bretheren and our sisters, when Sarah and Angelina Grimke passed by; they saw our low estate and their hearts melted within them; with the tenderness of ministering angels they lifted us from the dust and poured the oil of consolation, the balm of sympathy into our lacerated bosoms; they identified themselves with us, took our wrongs upon them, and made our oppression and woe theirs. Is it any marvel then that we call them blessed among women? We value them not because they belong to the great and the mighty of our land, but because they love Christ and our afflicted bretheren. Most cordially do we approve every step they have taken since they left us, believing that the unerring spirit of truth is their leader [and] friend. I hope this letter may be satisfactory to you; use it, and the account of my brother in any way you may think proper, but do not give my name unless it is absolutely necessary. Please tell our beloved A. E. G. that her friends entreat her not to exert herself until she is quite strong. May the Lord bless you, and may you anchor your little bark on the rock, Christ Jesus; that so, when the storm of persecution arises, You may suffer no loss.

Prays fervently
Sarah M. Douglass


Credit: Weld-Grimké Collection, Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor





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