African American Women of the Civil War Era – Untold Stories

FREED Performers, Left to right: Sandra D. Wilson (Dr. Rebecca Lee David Crumpler), Marie Davenport (Elleanor Eldridge) , Ruby M. Thomas (Preacher Amanda Berry Smith), Patricia A. Tyson (Hallie Quinn Brown), Judy Williams (Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield)

On October 21, 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF) was honored to host five visitors from the 1800’s, mostly the Civil War era, through the inspiring performances of the Female Re-enactors of Distinction (FREED).

The FREED performance was sponsored by the UUCF Racial Justice Steering Committee (RJSC) in support of its Second Principle Project. The project is designed to help UUCF live our commitment to the Unitarian Universalist Second Principle by affirming and promoting justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Through this project, the RJSC is dedicated to helping the congregation understand the root causes and effects of racism and developing partnerships with other institutions working to dismantle racism, particularly institutions led by people of color. Education is one of the ways the RJSC addresses these goals.

FREED was founded in 2005 in association with D.C.’s African American Civil War Museum and focuses on resurrecting real life stories of African American women of the mid-19th century whose stories are not found in traditional textbooks. Through these re-enactments, the women of FREED help to fill in the gap of so many important missing pieces of our nation’s history. Their mission is to educate the public and promote the accomplishments of African American Civil War Soldiers and the women who supported the fight for freedom. Most history books depict slaves working in plantation fields but fail to include the achievements of so many other African Americans, like the exceptional women portrayed by FREED.

The accomplishments of the African American women portrayed in their re-enactments are impressive, not only for the era in which they lived, but even by today’s standards. As writers, political activists, doctors, and nurses, they helped bring victory to the North and advance the cause of civil rights in the decades beyond.

After the performance, everyone joined together in a potluck dinner shared with the performers, while having the opportunity to talk with them in greater depth about the characters they portray and their reasons for being involved in these re-enactments. The event provided an opportunity for everyone to connect with one another and to learn and grow through reflection. It was an informative and educational event that taught us more about our history which has been ignored. As a woman in the audience said, “It makes you wonder how many more important figures in our past, such as these women, have been ignored in our history books.” Another attendee commented that it motivated her to start researching to learn more about the accomplishments of her African American ancestors and their contributions to the history of America. Anyone wanting more information about this event or the performers may contact Kaye Cook, [email protected].

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Congregations Respond to Election Results

Fairfax County Courthouse
Fairfax County Courthouse

The 2016 election results were astonishing no matter on which side of the divide you fall. Shocked and often dismayed, clergy from congregations all over the Washington DC area opened their doors on Wednesday for vigils, quiet space, community time, grieving, wondering, and recommitment to Unitarian Universalist values of inclusion and love. For a span of twelve hours, at least ten local congregations offered space for people to gather.

The Fairfax, Virginia interfaith community had already planned a Post Election Vigil for Healing for Wednesday night, arranged and sponsored by the UU Congregation of Fairfax.  The vigil was held on the steps of the Historic Old Fairfax County Courthouse, a site held by both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War.

Rev. David Miller, Senior Minister at the UU congregation of Fairfax, shared these words: “We don’t live in the halls of Congress. We live in communities that are totally dependent on all of us trusting each other, doing our part and understanding the humanity of all.

We have been called together tonight at this Civil War site, to remember what happens when ideology runs rampant and we lose our ability to see the humanity in the eyes of the other. There is so much pain on all sides of this election. I can only think, how will the movement start to overcome our differences? Where will the first step be taken to move beyond the battles of the last century? When will we see that we are different and yet so totally dependent on each other?”

See local news coverage, including comments from local UU ministers Rev. David Miller, Rev. Julie Price, and Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael.

If your congregation held a vigil, demonstration or more, please tell us about it below!

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Capital and Northern Virginia Cluster Clergy Release Statement

The clergy of the Capital and Northern Virginia Clusters released this statement this week in reaction to the ongoing violence in the United States.

Dearest congregations,

Design by Shane Montoya, using Wordfoto App. From UU Media Works.
Design by Shane Montoya, using Wordfoto App. From UU Media Works.

We are your clergy–those Unitarian Universalist and Ethical Culture clergy serving congregations in the DC metro area–and we want to write to you in this time of national anxiety and pain. Every week it seems there is another mass shooting or another terrorist attack. America has seen an increase in hate speech and racist and xenophobic language. And we are in the midst of an election season that holds challenging possibilities for our country, and encourages anxiety about our future, both as a nation, and a people united.  We have been hearing from you, our members, about how it feels to be living in this world: scary, disheartening, hopeful, disturbing, disorienting. We feel this, too, and just as you have turned to us, we have turned to each other.

As colleagues, we are working together to coordinate our response to these times, sharing information about healing spaces and vigils, and supporting each other in ministering to you, our communities and the world. We wanted you to know that just as none of you stand alone, neither do we stand alone; indeed, this is a time that reminds us how grateful we are to be connected to each other, part of a engaged religious movement which reaches across the country.

Beginning in September, many of us will be offering a shared moment of connection and meditation during our Sunday services. We will ring a bell three times, inviting all into a space of solidarity and support with each other, remembering all who have been lost to violence in the week past, and honoring our commitment to a different world. As you experience that bell ringing in your congregation on Sunday morning, know that Unitarian Universalists and Ethical Culturists across the area are experiencing it as well, and that we are united in our care for this country and its people.

You are the reason that we have hope: your work for justice, your faith in humanity, your commitment to our shared  values and beliefs.

We are grateful to serve you, and we are grateful that we do so as part of a larger whole. May we remember our connection to each other, may the long arc of hope keep us connected in these challenging times and may that connection sustain us and lead us forward.

  • Randall Best, Leader, Northern Virginia Ethical Society
  • The Rev. James Gibbons Walker, Chaplain, UU Fellowship of Southern Maryland
  • The Rev. Louise Green, Minister of Congregational Life, River Road UU Congregation
  • The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, Minister, UU Congregation of Frederick
  • The Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig, Associate Minister, UU Congregation of Fairfax
  • The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, Senior Minister, Cedar Lane UU Church
  • The Rev. Dan King, Minister, UU Church of Loudon
  • The Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy, Faith Development Minister, UU Church of Annapolis
  • The Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, Senior Minister, River Road UU Congregation
  • The Rev. Aaron McEmrys, Senior Minister, UU Church of Arlington
  • The Rev. David A. Miller, Senior Minister, UU Congregation of Fairfax
  • The Rev. Rebekah A. Montgomery, Assistant Minister, UU Congregation of Rockville
  • The Rev. Dr. Susan Newman Moore, Acting Senior Minister, All Souls Church, Unitarian
  • The Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, Minister of Faith in Action, UU Church of Arlington
  • The Rev. Amanda Poppei, Senior Leader, Washington Ethical Society
  • The Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, Minister, UU Congregation of Sterling
  • The Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, Minister, Accotink UU Church
  • The Rev. Lynn Strauss, Senor Minister, UU Congregation of Rockville
  • Hugh Taft-Morales, Leader, Baltimore Ethical Society
  • The Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker, Minister, Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church

More clergy will sign onto this letter upon their return from summer leave; it represents the collaborative work of the entire DC metro area.

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Racial Justice In Community: Don’t Do It Alone!

RR vigilLast summer when the clergy of Montgomery County, Maryland realized that each was working on racial justice and Black Lives Matter issues in their congregations and communities, and each was struggling with the tensions, hopes, challenges and opportunities that racial justice work presents, they decided to try something new. They formed a group where they could bring their work, their hopes, their plans, their struggles, their fatigue and worry, and gather strength from each other. Their hope was that their monthly meetings would provide support, inspiration, and joint action. So far, it has.

It might be easy to point to the shared activities of the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend as a measure of success. The members of the group, which now includes clergy, religious education staff, and Congregational Life staff, decided to coordinate their Martin Luther King weekend activities and Sunday messages to align with racial justice work of the modern age. The weekend included:

  • All five congregations invited to participate in the Friday night Black Lives Matter worship service and vigil at River Road UU Congregation;
  • All five preachers connecting their Sunday morning comments to the 50 year anniversary of King’s Ware Lecture at the UUA General Assembly, which called UUs to stay awake during the revolution. The congregations shared a common chalice lighting and chalice extinguishing words.
  • All five congregations invited to participate in the Sunday afternoon interfaith, multicultural worship service and celebration to celebrate King’s birthday, held at Cedar Lane UU Congregation. (See photo).
  • All five congregations inviting their families to participate in Sunday evening dinner table discussions about racial justice, using a discussion guide for either young children or youth and adults created by the religious educators;
  • All five congregations invited to participate in Monday’s County Wide MLK Day Celebration.

multifaith worship serviceThe weekend’s unprecedented coordinated action was a wonderful outgrowth of the group, but is not the primary product that the participants are hoping to achieve. Rather, the participants are hoping to continue to strengthen and support each other for the long haul of successful racial justice work, building relationships that will enable them to act promptly and effectively to ongoing situations.

As Rev. Lynn Strauss, Minister of the UU Congregation of Rockville, MD, remarks, “As our congregations began work on Black Lives Matter, and each of us were experiencing similar challenges separately (such as destruction of our banners and signs)  it made sense to me to collaborate, to share our experiences, our hopes, our intentions…to support one another.” Her colleague, Rev. Rebekah Montgomery, Assistant Minister at the UU Congregation of Rockville, adds, “It is a true luxury for me to be able to drink deep of the shared wisdom of this group.”  And Rev. Liz Lerner Maclay adds, “[I]t’s a brilliant way to leverage our work towards far greater impact in our county and region; it makes us much more powerful, and it reinforces that we are not alone in our imperatives and values, that we have spiritual kin with us in our work and aspiration and that we can help each other – which gets us closer to making the difference we are all striving for.  Better together.”

Racial justice work is hard, messy, rewarding, and couldn’t be more important. Do it right: don’t do it alone!

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Lessons from Congregations on #BLM

Image from UU World. Courtesy of Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd

Many CERG congregations are choosing to respond to the events of the Black Lives Matter movement by posting “Black Lives Matter” signs in front of their congregations.  And, unfortunately, many of those signs are being desecrated. (read the UUWorld Coverage of these incidents)


River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland erected a Black Lives Matter banner last summer that was vandalized twice and stolen once (read the Washington Post coverage). After replacing the banner each time and working with police to develop a thus-far-unsuccessful plan to catch the perpetrator(s), the congregation turned to consider what this destruction meant to their witness to the racism and violence that permeates American culture.


River Road decided to begin weekly vigils at the roadside by the reinstated banner.  Their first vigil, on September 25th, was attended by more than 50 congregants and guests.  It began with a worship service that centered and connected the group with prayer, readings and song.  The vigil participants then lit candles and processed to the roadside, singing and drumming for 20 minutes.  They plan to continue the Friday evening vigils into the foreseeable future.


Senior minister Rev. Nancy MacDonald Ladd says, “We think of our weekly vigils as a Living Witness for black lives.  By holding the signs along a busy thoroughfare in front of our congregational home, we signal to ourselves and others that we have a personal stake in the work of dismantling racism. It’s not just an institution, but individual people committed enough to bear that message and all it entails in their own two hands.  Every witness is important, and this Living Witness feeds our spirits for the action ahead.”


If your congregation is considering posting a sign please read last week’s post about what the Central East Regional Staff feel you should do to be prepared for this sort of activity. If posting a sign doesn’t work for your congregation, that’s okay too.  There are other things your congregation can do.  More on that soon.


Rev. Megan Foley
Central East Region Staff

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