Our archival holdings on this subject offer an excellent way to trace (1) the shifting attitudes of North American whites towards people of color, and (2) the evolving mission of AFSC from wartime aid to justice activism.
The earliest sign of racial awareness in AFSC is a 1925 brochure which responds to the “Yellow Peril” of Asian immigration. A 1932 conference program asserts that the Society of Friends “is not meeting in any adequate way the demands of the American racial situation.” By 1946, our Race Relations Committee was using language that anticipated current themes of undoing racism, placing responsibility for change on the majority population. Documents from that era also note that Jews, while not a “race,” also experience discrimination.
Memos, brochures, annual reports, and program goals and evaluations all show that AFSC’s workplace Placement Service didn’t simply strive to broaden employment opportunities for Black people; we also performed research to prove that qualified Black people were turned away, while less-qualified whites were hired.
A series of 1964 Mississippi Reports outline AFSC’s role in the Freedom Summer, and plans for organizing proactively to bring about structural change in the military, state government, and school systems. One can’t read AFSC’s reprint of Bayard Rustin’s response to the 1964 riots in Harlem without thinking of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Just three years later, a confidential memo to all regional secretaries from the board of governors explores the Black Power movement and the dilemmas it poses to AFSC.
By 1971, People of Color within AFSC founded the Third World Coalition, infusing Third World perspectives throughout the Service Committee’s work. The Archives has public-facing brochures and internal memos recording the impact of this unusual nonprofit approach to self-examination.