Richard Allen’s Struggle Against Fake News

allen-and-jones-protest[This article also appears on the blog of the Germantown Mennonite Church.]

It was fall of 1793 in Philadelphia. Yellow fever was spreading over the city. In a period of 100 days, 10% of the city’s residents had died. The city was in a panic. Most governing officials left the city, including President George Washington. In the midst of this epidemic, Philadelphia’s Mayor Clarkson put out a call for civic-minded volunteers to stay in the city and help out by caring for the sick.

Richard Allen was born into slavery in 1760 on a Delaware plantation owned by Benjamin Chew. He managed to raise enough money to purchase his freedom, and he made his way to Philadelphia. Recognizing his gift of preaching, St. George’s Methodist Episcopal church persuaded him to lead a church service for the city’s free and enslaved persons of African descent. Allen developed a strong following, and along with Absalom Jones, established the Free African Society. The society was dedicated to the economic and social uplift of the city’s African Americans.

Dr. Benjamin Rush was the city’s leading physician and also a strong supporter of the Free African Society and friend of Richard Allen. Rush asked Allen for help in recruiting volunteers to care for yellow fever victims. Rush erroneously believed that black Philadelphians were immune to yellow fever and this could be the moment when they could demonstrate their worthiness as civic leaders. Allen recruited scores of African American nurses to go door to door, emptying bed pans, feeding and comforting the sick, and disposing of the dead. They truly acted heroically in face of danger and many lost their lives as a result.

In the months after the fever subsided, not all white residents recognized their sacrifices.  Mathew Carey wrote an official account of the epidemic accusing black nurses of stealing and price gouging. Carey provided little evidence for these accusations, but most white Philadelphians were willing to believe rumors that fit their own prejudices about their African American neighbors. Carey’s book was wildly popular and sold over ten thousands copies.

Allen felt betrayed by Philadelphia’s white citizens. His response was to pick up a pen and paper and sit down to write an accurate account to set the record straight. He acknowledged that there were isolated incidents of theft, but it was prejudiced to single out African Americans for censure, when far more whites had been accused of the same crimes. Jones and Allen worked together to write a very short book with a very long title: “A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People During the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia in the Year 1793 and a Refutation of Some Censures Thrown Upon Them in Some Late Publications.” It was the first copyrighted book written by an African American and it included a letter by Mayor Clarkson who praised the city’s black leaders for their “diligence, attention, and decency of deportment” during the epidemic.

In era when fake new, fake history, and even fake massacres proliferate, in a time when inaccurate rumors are spread about vulnerable minorities, we would do well to look to Richard Allen as an example. It’s time for us to pick up our pens and paper and speak the truth.


To learn more about Richard Allen, be sure to visit the museum at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. There is also an excellent biography by Richard S. Newman titled Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers.

Dave Krueger is an independent historian and tour guide. He discusses Richard Allen and William Penn on an upcoming episode, of Raw Travel TV to be aired in the Philadelphia region on Saturday, February 11 at 1:30 pm on WPHL My 17. Watch the trailer here

Runic Scholar and Midwest Historian Visit Philadelphia’s Swedish Museum

Myths of the Rune Stone

Henrik & Dave Dr. Williams (on the left) and me at the American Swedish Historical Museum. We are both pointing to the respective regions in Sweden to which we have familial ties. My great-great grandparents came to Minnesota in the 1880s.

As noted in a previous post, I invited Swedish runic scholar Henrik Williams to speak at a special event on November 14, 2016 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Dr. Williams is a professor of Scandinavian languages at Uppsala University in Sweden and the lead researcher for the American Association of Runic Studies (AARS), an organization committed to historically accurate, peer-reviewed, scientific analysis of runes and runic inscriptions. Henrik is also engaged in an educational partnership with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Be sure to visit the team website for a series of articles and a video about accurate portrayals of Viking history.

Earlier in the day, I had the…

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Indie Scholar Podcast w/Dave Krueger

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We all know that successful completion of graduate school does not guarantee a job with a living wage. Today, more than 50% of faculty appointments are part time and over 70% are NON-tenured positions. It is increasingly difficult for many to make a living as a higher ed instructor. These scholars and educators are faced with difficult choices. Some leave academia all together. Others find a creative ways to make a living while they continue to do the things they love.

The Indie Scholar podcast is a show that will feature independent scholars. These are folks who have earned graduate degrees, but have chosen (or have been forced to choose) non-traditional academic paths. They might be part-time faculty, non-profit managers, teachers, activists, journalist, government workers, or entrepreneurs.  However, they continue to educate the world and produce knowledge in some way.

The Indie Scholar Podcast is actively seeking guests for 2017. If you know someone who you thinks should be featured on this show, nominate them by sending an email to show host Dave Krueger at: davidkrueger01 at gmail.com. Include a paragraph or two about them and why you think they should be on the show. Self-nominations are strongly encouraged! Lastly, this is not a show about people who have necessarily “made it.” It is meant to highlight the experiences of a wide variety persons at various stages of professional and vocational life.

The Indie Scholar Podcast is a show for and about scholars working at the edges of academia. Click here to connect to Marginalia Review of Books and listen to a sample of the forthcoming show.

NOTE: 

The song “Waiting Room” by Fugazi is used with permission. To purchase the album 13 Songs originally released in 1989, visit their page at Dischord Records.  Fugazi is a band known for its DIY (Do-It-Yourself) ethos and resistance to the corporate music industry.

 

Kensington Rune Stone Featured on the Travel Channel

Myths of the Rune Stone

img_2698 Author and historian David M. Krueger in front of Penn Station on the way home from filming with the Travel Channel in NYC. 

Early this summer, I took the train from Philly up to New York City for an afternoon filming session with the Travel Channel’s popular show, Mysteries at the Museum. In case you are not familiar with the show, here is  a description:

“Host Don Wildman digs into the world’s greatest institutions to unearth extraordinary relics that reveal incredible secrets from the past. Through compelling interviews, rare archival footage and arresting recreations, “Mysteries at the Museum” illuminates the hidden treasures at the heart of history’s most incredible triumphs, sensational crimes and bizarre encounters.”  

The episode to which I contributed is titled“Kensington Runestone, Smile! You’re Being Hijacked and Harriet the Spy” – which premieres Friday, September 30 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT 

In this episode “Don Wildman examines a…

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Talking Vikings at the Minnesota History Center

Myths of the Rune Stone

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul Minnesota. It is the home of the Minnesota Historical Society. While I was researching for my book Myths of the Rune Stone Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America, I spent many days here reading newspaper microfilm and scores of other historical documents. The event had been scheduled to take place in a smaller seminar room, but they had to move it to the main auditorium because of the crowd (167 in attendance!) I think that Mike Mullen’s recent article in the Minneapolis City Pages generated a lot of interest. Many thanks to Danielle Dart, coordinator of public programs for lifelong learners, for making this event possible. You can listen to the podcast above.

Although I have given numerous presentations on the book since its release last October, I made a special effort to locate…

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Historicizing the Christian Nation Myth

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz frequently states in his campaign speeches that he wants to see America return to “the Judeo-Christian values that built this great nation.” The inclusion of “Judeo” in Judeo-Christian has its own history, but the vast majority of Americans over the years have believed that they live in a “Christian nation.” As Messiah College historian John Fea argues, this is simply a historical observation, not an assessment of whether or not it is “correct” or “true.”On April 13, 2016, Fea spoke at a forum at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The event was titled “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” You can listen to the podcast below.

The culture of Christianity has no doubt had a significant influence on American culture. However, some have tried to make the claim that the U.S. was “founded” as a Christian nation. This historical claim has strong political implications. Although legally the Constitution prohibits the government from establishing a religion, some have tried to argue that the founders intended the nation to be guided by exclusively Christian principles. The Christian nationalist David Barton has waged a decades-long campaign to prove America’s “Godly heritage” by demonstrating that the founders were all orthodox Christians and that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are Christian documents.

Barton’s pseudo-historical claims have been widely discredited, perhaps most articulately in John Fea’s book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and in the dozens of articles he has written.  Despite Barton’s lack of credibility as an interpreter of the American past, he has been extremely influential among a segment of Evangelical voters in the Republican party who frame political contests in terms of a culture war. Culture warriors see themselves at battle for the soul of America. They look to an idealized Christian past to counter what they see as the growing threats of religious diversity and creeping secularism. Barton’s  message has financial backing. So much so that he runs the Super PAC for the candidate he believes is anointed by God to become president, Ted Cruz. Fea has been at the forefront of a movement to call Ted Cruz to clarify his associations Barton.

Although Fea does not explicitly use the term “myth” in his book to describe the the construction of a usable past, I think he would agree that it is a helpful category. Myths are commonly understood to be “lies,” but in a cultural or historical sense, they are the stories and claims that give shape to our social lives. Myths function to express a society’s hopes, aspirations, fears, anxieties, and prejudices. The Christian nation myth, in particular, has long been used to demarcate who and who is not a true American. At various moments in history, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and non-believers have labeled as outsiders.

Fea PastFea - rural image

For the past year, I have been hosting a series of forums dedicated to the theme of American Myths. The first forum, held last October, took a critical look at the American obsession with discovery myths.  Lenape tribal leader and New Jersey pastor John Norwood delivered a devastating critique of the continued deference that white Americans give to Christopher Columbus. You can listen to the podcast here. In our second forum, I posed the question of “Why Myths Matter to Americans.” Several local scholars, including historians John Pahl and Katie Oxx, sociologist Nathan Wright, and theologian Jim McIntire delivered responses to my book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. We had a robust conversation on why people believe in things that have been disproved by science and how myths perform both harmful and helpful roles in a society. You can access that podcast here.

I’m so pleased that John Fea could join us on April 13 for the event dedicated to the Christian nation myth. As a historian, he is deeply committed to engaging the public and he challenges us to look beyond the ideology and emotional rhetoric that has fueled historical arguments (from both the right and left) to look carefully at the recorded facts of the past. Be sure to visit his website The Way of Improvement Leads Home and subscribe to his excellent history podcast on iTunes.

The forum podcast above is a recording of his talk and the audiences questions posed to him. Fea based his presentation on his book Was American Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction. Westminster/John Knox Press is re-releasing the book this September, just in time for the final months of the presidential election season. If you are on Twitter, you can search the hashtag #JohnFea to view the live tweets. Following the forum, a few of us joined John Fea for a beer at Brü Craft and Wurst located near the church. We had a spirited conversation with Anthea Butler and her American religion graduate students, Chelsea Chamberlain, Gabriel Raeburn, and Andrew Hudson from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Stay tuned for upcoming events sponsored by the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. It is my intention to use this space to host future events that foster public discussion of  religion, history, politics, and American culture.

 

 

 

Why Myths Matter to Americans

 

Myth Matter flyerThe “Why Myths Matter” forum is the second in a two-year series of forums dedicated to the theme of American myths. It is held on February 24, 2016 at the Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia PA. Click here to view information on the entire series. Speakers are listed below along with a guide to navigate the podcast:

1:00 – Welcome and short reflection by Rev. Robin Hynicka – Jeremiah 10

6:18 – Speaker introductions and overview of the book Myths of the Rune Stone – author David M. Krueger

24:50 – Dr. Jon Paul – Lutheran Theological Seminary – What about the role of fantasy and playfulness in the rune stone story? References to novelists Ole Rolvaag and Louise Erdrich.

33:00 – Dr. Nathan Wright – Bryn Mawr College – Despite the dangers of myth to exclude and dominate, they are necessary for societies to function. References to Durkheim, Bellah, and other sociologists.

45:50 – Dr. Katie Oxx – St. Joseph’s University – The ways that Catholics negotiate American identity. A comparison of the “Pope stone” and the “rune stone.” References to “new materialism.” How do material artifacts act on us?

54:00 – Rev. Jim McIntire – Havertown UMC – Myth fills a gap in public discourse. Conspiracy theorists like Scott Wolter profit handsomely from propagating myths.  Reflections Joseph Campbell’s book on myths.

1:10:50 – Audience Response

 

Why Myths Matter to Americans:
A Round-Table Discussion w/Author David M. Krueger

Myth Matter flyer
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 – 7:00-8:30 pm at Arch Street UMC: Philadelphia, PA

JonPahl2015DR. JON PAHL: the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor in the History of Christianity at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He is the author of Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence.

 

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DR. NATHAN WRIGHT: an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bryn Mawr College. He has researched historical changes to religious belief and practice among Mormons in the U.S.

 

 

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DR. KATIE OXX: an assistant professor in the History of Christianity at St. Josephs University and producer and historical director of the documentary “Urban Trinity: The Story of Catholic Philadelphia.”

Pastor of Hope UMC in Havertown, PA. His passion for American history and it's implications has been lifelong and has led him to studies in political science, history, and law.

REV. JIM MCINTIRE: Pastor of Hope UMC in Havertown, PA. His passion for American history and it’s implications has been lifelong and has led him to studies in political science, history, and law.

 


Why do people believe myths that have been disproven by science? Why have Americans fought over stories about who was here first? Does Viking enthusiasm have anything to do with white supremacy? This event is a conversation with author David M. Krueger about his book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. Copies will be available for sale at the event and the author will be available to sign them.

This is the second forum in Arch Street’s “American Myths Series,” which facilitates thoughtful reflection on the content and meaning of stories that shape national identity. Childcare will be provided. Arch Street UMC is located at 55 N. Broad Street in Philadelphia, one block north of City Hall.

 

Why Viking Myths Matter to Americans