– The Quakers by Heather Kirk
Book review by Sylvia Powers
Heather Kirk has been interested in non-violent resistance movements since watching the preparations in Poland leading up to the solidarity movement. Her book “Be Not Afraid” documents the decade of a peaceful struggle involving about ten million people and resulted in Poland becoming independent of communist rule without killing a single person. Although not a Quaker, she has explored Quaker achievements as “one of the longest and most influential non-violent resistance movements in history”.
Her book covers the whole period of Quakerism from before George Fox’s birth to the present, from the United Kingdom to the Americas and other parts of the world. She gives biographies of well-known Quakers such as John Woolman and lesser known (to me anyway) persons such as Thomas Pearson. She uses many different techniques in the book to keep the attention of the reader. Quaker quotes, Quaker jokes, biographies written in the first or third person, quizzes, geography, history, and time lines are some of her methods. Many pictures of people and places and images of documents are spread throughout the book.
Since her focus is on non-violent movements, much is written about the freeing of the slaves, the revolutionary war, the civil war, and the world wars, and the part played by Quakers and others. She recounts how some Quakers struggle to decide whether to fight to end slavery and how tolerant some of the meetings were when some of their members felt they had to do so. The Friends Ambulance Unit and the American Friends Service Committee, are ways that Friends responded to the suffering caused by war. The wars turned many people into pacifists and some became Friends.
Following the Second World War, many Friends led the protest against nuclear weapons while others became involved in the civil rights movement in the United States and in other social movements. Heather gives brief biographies of many of these people. She begins and ends the book with a riveting account of the “Golden Rule” and its crew, who tried to stop the first hydrogen bomb test on Christmas Island in 1958. Inspired by this example, in the 1970s some Canadians and Americans sailed in a rusting trawler to stop the nuclear bomb testing in .Amchitka Island. They renamed their vessel Greenpeace.
Seeking Peace -The Quakers was written as a text book for senior secondary school and beginning college and university students. Meeting groups and individuals will find it it exciting stories of living the peace testimony that have changed history
Although I have attended Friends gatherings for 50 years, I learned a lot about the life and work of people who may have been well-known in their time but have become more obscure as the years go by. Passages range from short paragraphs to several pages, and the book is very readable.
The history of the Friends Peace Testimony since the mid-17th century has evolved and expanded with awareness that world society concerns are all related. Respect and care for all with non violence positive actions is the path to Peace.