By Sujin Kim ’18, Marketing and Communications Student Intern
On November 13, the tenth grade took a field trip to Philadelphia for the day. Our first stop was the Free Quaker Meeting House on Arch Street, which was built during the Revolutionary War. The Meeting was founded by Quakers who were “read out” or expelled from the main Meeting for defying Quaker pacifist ideals and supporting the war. At the Meeting House, we sat in the benches and reenacted a Meeting for Worship for Business where we discussed a fictional situation regarding the Fugitive Slave law of 1850; a young female slave named Harriet had run away from her master. She had come to the Quaker meeting seeking help and we, as the meeting, now had to decide whether we were going to follow the law and turn Harriet in, or protect her. A few days before the trip, in our history classes, we had deciphered the entire original document of the Fugitive Slave law of 1850 and explored the effects it had had on society. However, we had not been told about the activity until we got to the meeting house, so everything that was said in our Meeting for Worship was unrehearsed, and reflected the genuine thoughts and emotions of the speaker. As we stood up one by one and voiced our opinions, I found myself feeling proud of my classmates for the compassion and willingness to stand up for others they demonstrated in their responses. The humanity and determination that was expressed in that meeting was certainly past the scope of what I had initially expected, and I left the meeting with a greater sense of pride in my classmates.
Following a brief stop at the Independence Hall visitors center, we continued on to Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on 6th Street. At the church, we started by taking a brief tour of the beautiful sanctuary and its small but historical museum. Next, we were met by Margaret Jerridou, the church’s archivist and a very well respected archivist in Philadelphia. (Mother Bethel is known for its extensive archives.) We were split up into small groups, and each group was given a case from an early 19th century trial book to read. Ms. Jerridou asked us each to find a few key points of information: the date of the trial, the names of the people on trial, the names of the committee members who served as judges, the charge, and the verdict. The document was written in scrawling cursive, and it was quite a challenge to decipher what the words said! With a little help from our teachers and Ms. Jerridou, we were eventually able to find the key information. My group’s case was about a young woman who had been exiled from the church for attempting to poison her husband. Another group’s case featured a man who was placed on probation for drunkenness. The trial book we read for Ms. Jerridou was part of her regular work that she needed to get done, so our class helped contribute to the Mother Bethel AME Church’s archive!
Our last stop was Reading Terminal Market! After a delicious lunch, we spent the rest of the trip exploring all the stores the market had to offer, especially the famous Bassett’s ice cream shop and the multitudes of bakeries. Many of us (teachers included) got on the bus back to school with a box of famous Beiler’s doughnuts or a bag of Amish candy.
The trip provided excellent augmentation to lessons we had learned in class. The meeting for worship for business gave us a chance to first-hand experience and discuss the dilemmas Quakers would have faced surrounding slavery and the fugitive slave law, and provided the class with an opportunity to facilitate a meaningful discussion about moral issues surrounding human rights that are still relevant today. The activity we did at Mother Bethel with the primary document not only helped Ms. Jerridou get her work done, it gave us insight into the work that goes into reading and translating a primary document. After many years of researching and writing about primary documents in our history classes, it was very interesting and a lot of fun to get the chance to study and decipher one ourselves. Finally, there was no better way to close the day than to take a trip to Reading Terminal Market. A fun time with friends and good food guaranteed a cheerful return back to school.