Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Quaker Speaks From The Black Experience: The Life and Selected Writings of Barrington Dunbar

A Quaker Speaks From The Black Experience: The Life and Selected Writings of Barrington Dunbar
Antonio G. Pereira © 2012 Antonio G. Pereira

Barrington Dunbar was quite a gifted and remarkable person. He lived his life as we can all only hope to. That is to make a difference in other people's lives to such an extent, that he left a lasting influence. The book, 'A Quaker Speaks From The Black Experience: The Life and Selected Writings of Barrington Dunbar' (Edited by James A. Fletcher and Carleton Mabee. Published by New York Yearly Meeting of the Religeous Society of Friends, 15 Rutherford Place, New York, N.Y. 10003), covers his whole life. By the time he passed on, in October of 1978 in Toronto, Canada at the age of 77, his legacy was astounding. Just to briefly go through highlights in his life, is to marvel. From his support and raising funds for the American Relief Ship For Spain, while attending Columbia University in the 1930s (there is a photo of Barrington with other supporters in the book, 'Mississippi To Madrid: Memories of a Black American In The Spanish Civil War 1936-1938 by James Yates. Published by Shamal Books, GPO Box 16 New York City 10116 USA), to his work with young people at the Urban League, during the same time period, Riverside Church, and an interracial cooperative in Greenwich Village. When drafted during World War II, he worked with Black Migrant Farm Workers for the War Food Administration. As a Major in the United States Army after the war, in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency in Europe, he worked to help Polish, Estonian, German and French families rebuild their lives (as well as with Formerly - Nazi German youth); and arranged for Black Churches and a community center in Harlem, to send needed food, clothing and Christmas gifts to displaced refugees. Needless to say, his building of bridges between cultures was immense. His subsequent work with Unicef in Haiti, led to his interest in Quakerism, and through this, expanded his travels to Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Greece, Israel, Italy, England, Russia, Scandinavia and Brazil, in the 1950s. During the 1960s he settled in New York and continued his work there, where he created and developed 'The Adventure Corps', on the Lower East Side; an experimental program aimed at helping the diverse youth population which included Black, Latino, Chinese and Jewish. As the events of this decade unfolded, America changed forever, and Barrington (now a Quaker) spoke widely and clearly about what was happening. Many of his articles and essays, which were published in the Quaker periodical, 'Friends Journal', are gathered together in the second half of this book; and his unflinching truths about 'overt violence' (the riots which were exploding all over the country) and 'covert violence' ( the institutionalized racism that had been quietly allowed to function as the law of the land, while those who had been comfortable with it, looked the other way and did nothing) are very powerful to read, even now. I was lucky enough to have known him personally, and back when I was a college student, spent many hours talking with him at his apartment on the Lower East Side. Among the many stories of his life that he spoke of with warm memories, one of my favourites was his recollection of Bobby Kennedy visiting Grosvenor Hospital during the Christmas/New Years holidays in the 1960s; where Bobby sat on the floor with the children in the Children's Ward, and played with them with their toys. In my own travels as a college student, no matter what continent I was on, I always ran into someone whose life he had touched and changed for the better. A truly rare person, indeed!

No comments: