The Reckoning & Repair working group (R&R) of our Racial Justice Coordinating Committee (RJCC) has been working to educate our congregation about our history with slavery and also commit to reparations now that we know the truth about our history. In that effort, R&R drafted a Narrative to help members better understand our historical involvement with slavery, and the Affirmation below that we hope to vote on in the Spring of 2024. This Affirmation includes an acknowledgement of the truth about our history and a commitment to reparations.
We will continue our work in the 2023 – 2024 program year to host workshops, listening groups, and small group discussions intended to help FPUUA members explore how First Parish can make a tangible commitment to reparations.
Affirmation of Reckoning & Repair – draft as of May 19, 2023
To create beloved community, rooted in justice and inspired by love, we break past silences and honestly name our congregation’s entanglement with the institution of slavery since its inception in 1739. More than half of our congregation’s original pew owners enslaved Black people, and our initial congregation was founded in part on the uncompensated labor, resources, skills, and talents of enslaved people.
Naming it is not enough; we are compelled to act. We must mitigate, to the best of our ability, the harm caused to enslaved people and their descendants by our forebears. We commit to a process of reparations led by people of African descent and the broader reparations movement, and we will work within and beyond our congregation’s walls to bring about holistic repair. Reparations are central to the struggle to build a world based on justice, care, and uplift, and we commit ourselves to this work.
Since its inception in 1739, the First Parish congregation of Arlington has had a complex and multifaceted history. Though there have been times of great joy and good work, there have also been times of significant harm and inequity: our congregation’s original wealth has been and remains entangled with the institution of slavery.
When residents of the Northwest Cambridge Precinct built our Meetinghouse in the early eighteenth century, it was legal for white colonists to enslave Africans. At the time, more than half of our congregation’s sixteen pew-owning members or their families enslaved Black people. For example, one of our founding members and major financier, Jason Russell, enslaved a woman named Kate in his home from the time of her infancy to her death. While history has celebrated the Russell family, Kate and other enslaved people have been ignored. In fact, there is significant evidence that she and others are buried in an unmarked grave in the Old Burying Ground.
First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington previously whitewashed the past; which is to say, we have told our history from the point of view of white identity. This retelling excused violence and erased our institution’s historic ties to slavery. In order to create a beloved community and build a better future that is rooted in justice and inspired by love, we break past silences and honestly name our congregation’s involvement with the institution of slavery. We have benefited financially and socially from our founders’ wealth, based in part on the uncompensated contributions of the labor, resources, skills, and talents of enslaved people through our initial endowment.
In recognizing our congregation’s benefit from enslavement, we are responsible to mitigate, to the best of our ability, the harm caused to enslaved people by our forebears. We are committed to reckoning and repair.
Naming it is not enough, we commit to ongoing racial justice work and reconciliation. We commit to a process of reparations as allies with the African American community and the ongoing, broader reparations movement. We promise to work within and beyond our congregation’s walls to bring about holistic repair and accountability.
The process of reparations and repair that we engage in may include the following actions: taking the lead from Arlington’s MLK Planning Committee, and through them committing financial support to a local scholarship fund for African American youth; acknowledging publicly First Parish’s history of enslavement and its commitment to repair and reparations; assessing the loss of generational wealth to enslaved people in Arlington; engaging in naming or renaming of Arlington streets and squares for the enslaved Africans who lived in Arlington.