Springfield’s connections with Civil Rights

Quakers were the first organized church to decide that slavery is against God’s will, and that no one could be a member of the Society of Friends and own slaves.

One of the best-known early leaders was John Woolman, a Quaker minister from New Jersey, who traveled up and down the East coast convincing his fellow Quakers to set their slaves free. During part of his travels, his cousin and companion was William Hunt from North Carolina. His son, Nathan Hunt, was one of the founders of Springfield Friends.
During the early 1800’s, many Quakers from North Carolina moved to the “free states” of Ohio and Indiana. Some who remained here helped with the Underground Railroad, a secret and illegal network of people who helped an estimated 100,000 runaway slaves to freedom.

Allen Jay, who later became one of the most famous and beloved members of Springfield, grew up in Ohio. As a boy, he worked on the Underground Railroad and later told the thrilling story in his Autobiography.

Across the road from Springfield is the house where Allen and Martha Jay lived (now home to FEMAP, Friends Emergency Material Assistance Program). An undocumented legend says that the attic in the Allen Jay house was a hiding place for the Underground Railroad.

Another member of Springfield, Yardley Warner, built a network of schools for former slaves, assisted by the Freedman’s Bureau. He also purchased a tract of land in Greensboro and laid out house lots and garden plots for former slaves, a neighborhood which became known as Warnersville.

Solomon Blair (1827-1896) was a member of Springfield who started a small school for former slaves and their children here in High Point. The school was taken over and expanded by New York Yearly Meeting and became the William Penn School, a vocational high school for African-American students. The school eventually became part of the High Point public schools, and is now a magnet school for the arts.

When our new meetinghouse was built in 1927, Solomon and Abigail’s children, John Jay Blair, Ada Blair, Emma Blair, Elva Blair, Martha Blair and David Hunt Blair, purchased the pews for the new worship room. Whenever you sit down for worship at Springfield, your seat has a direct connection to a family which worked to educate African-American students.

Clara Cox (1879-1940) served as pastor at Springfield for many years. She was deeply concerned for the poor, and from her own funds helped provide scholarships for many African-American students. She served as president of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, and also helped the Elfland School, a reform school for young black women.

In February of 1960, a group of twenty-four students from William Penn, with advice from leaders in the American Friends Service Committee, occupied the lunch counter at the High Point branch of Woolworth’s. Many other William Penn students and graduates were active in the struggle to desegregate public facilities.

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2 Responses to Springfield’s connections with Civil Rights

  1. Glenn R. Chavis says:

    I challenge the information regarding Solomon Blair starting a school for slaves and it later became William Penn HS. I would love to see the documentation used to make this claim. I have documents to prove otherwise. I have talked with the folks at Guildford College and one of the Quakers leading national historians and they no of no such documentation for this claim.

    • Josh says:

      The source for this is a web site article, with photographs, organized by a professor at High Point University, the William Penn Project. https://www.williampennproject.org/blank-1

      An additional source is the official history of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, Carolina Quakers, edited by Seth and Mary Hinshaw in 1972. On page 48 it says: “Special mention should be made of the William Penn High School in High Point, founded in 1867 by Solomon Blair to provide education for Negroes in that area. This school began in a small two-room building. By 189- needs were so great that plans were made for a larger building. A suitable site was selected, and $500.00 was subscribed by the white citizens of High Point, and $1,000.00 by the colored. The Clerk of New York Yearly Meeting came to High Point to survey the situation and on the basis of his recommendation, New York Friends raised $2,000.00 for the project. This school grew and prospered, reaching an enrollment of 300. It was outstanding for its athletic and scholastic achievements until the time of its merging into the public school system in 1968.”

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