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Dark Legacy of the Maryland Episcopal Church: The Roots of the Maryland Colonization Society



The Maryland Episcopal Church, like many institutions in the United States, has a complex and often troubling history when it comes to issues of race and racism. One particular area of concern is the Church's relationship with the Maryland Colonization Society, which was established in the early 19th century with the goal of resettling free blacks and slaves in Liberia.


The Maryland Colonization Society was founded in 1817, and its stated goal was to "remove the evils of slavery and to promote the happiness of the free people of color." The Society believed that African Americans were incompatible with American society and that their resettlement in Africa would ultimately lead to the end of slavery. The Society received funding from various sources, including the federal government and the Episcopal Church, and its work eventually led to the founding of the country of Liberia in 1847.


The Maryland Episcopal Church was one of the key supporters of the Maryland Colonization Society. The Church provided financial support and leadership to the Society, and many of its members held leadership positions within the Society. In fact, the Maryland Episcopal Church was instrumental in the establishment of the Maryland State Colonization Society, which was formed in 1827 to promote the resettlement of free blacks and slaves from Maryland.


However, the resettlement efforts of the Maryland Colonization Society were fraught with racist practices. Many African Americans who were resettled in Liberia were not truly free and were instead forced to work as indentured servants for white settlers. Additionally, many of the settlers were not prepared for life in Africa and struggled to adapt to their new environment.


The Maryland Episcopal Church has acknowledged its role in supporting the Maryland Colonization Society and the harm caused by its racist practices. In 2019, the Church published a report titled "Racism in the Anglican and Episcopal Church of Maryland" that examined the history of racism within the Church and its role in promoting segregation and discrimination. The report acknowledged that the Church's support of the Maryland Colonization Society was based on racist beliefs and that its efforts to promote resettlement were harmful to African Americans.


The Church has also taken steps to address its past and promote racial justice within the Church and society. In 2021, the Church established a Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission to address issues of racism within the Church and promote healing and reconciliation. The Commission has held listening sessions and developed a plan for moving forward that includes education, advocacy, and dialogue.


However, the Maryland Episcopal Church's relationship with the Maryland Colonization Society is just one part of a larger history of racism within the Church and society. The Church has a long history of promoting segregation and discrimination, including supporting the system of Jim Crow laws in the South. In recent years, the Church has taken steps to address this history, including passing resolutions calling for racial reconciliation and apologizing for its role in supporting slavery and segregation.


The Church's efforts to address its past and promote racial justice are part of a larger movement within the Episcopal Church and society as a whole. The Church has joined with other denominations and faith communities in calling for an end to systemic racism and promoting policies that address racial inequality. The Church's commitment to this work is grounded in its belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being and its understanding that racism is a sin that must be addressed.


In conclusion, the Maryland Episcopal Church's relationship with the Maryland Colonization Society is a complicated and troubling part of its history. While the Church played a role in promoting racist practices, it has also taken steps to acknowledge its past and work towards a more just and equitable future. As we continue to grapple with issues of racism and injustice in our society, it is important to acknowledge the harm that has been caused and work towards healing and reconciliation. The Church's commitment to this work is a testament to its belief in transformative power of grace and its dedication to living out its values of justice, love, and mercy.


For those interested in further research on this topic, there are a number of resources available. The Maryland Episcopal Church's 2019 report, "Racism in the Anglican and Episcopal Church of Maryland," provides a comprehensive overview of the Church's history with race and racism, including its relationship with the Maryland Colonization Society. The report can be accessed on the Church's website, along with other resources on racial justice and reconciliation.


Another valuable resource is the book "Slavery and the Anglican Church" by Keith Edward Whitfield, which provides an in-depth examination of the Church's historical ties to slavery and its role in promoting racial inequality. The book includes a discussion of the Maryland Colonization Society and the Church's support of its efforts.


Additionally, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. has a number of exhibits and resources on the history of slavery and its impact on African Americans, including the resettlement efforts of organizations like the Maryland Colonization Society.


As we continue to grapple with the legacy of racism and injustice in our society, it is important to remember that progress is possible. The Maryland Episcopal Church's commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is an example of this progress, and it is a reminder that we all have a role to play in creating a more just and equitable world. By acknowledging the harm that has been caused and working towards healing and reconciliation, we can begin to build a future that is more inclusive, compassionate, and just for all people.


Workds Cited:


"From the Archives: The American Colonization Society." The Maryland Episcopalian, 18 Jan. 2022, https://marylandepiscopalian.org/2022/01/18/from-the-archives-the-american-colonization-society/

"Racism in the Anglican and Episcopal Church of Maryland." Maryland Episcopal Church, 2019, https://images.yourfaithstory.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2019/04/27095253/Racism-in-the-Anglican-and-Episcopal-Church-of-Maryland.pdf

Whitfield, Keith Edward. Slavery and the Anglican Church. University of Illinois Press, 2013.

"Slavery and Freedom." National Museum of African American History and Culture, https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/initiatives/slavery-and-freedom.

Smith, Jennifer. "The Episcopal Church Grapples with Its Legacy of Slavery, Embraces Racial Reconciliation." National Catholic Reporter, 16 Aug. 2018, https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/episcopal-church-grapples-its-legacy-slavery-embraces-racial-reconciliation.

Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Random House, 2000.

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