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Ill-Fated Anti-Slavery Document Focus of Week’s Activities

March 15, 1988

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The 300th anniversary of one of the first documents protesting slavery in America will be marked with a week of activities and a renewed call for justice.

Written in April 1688 by Quaker Francis Daniel Pastorius and three other settlers, the Germantown Anti-Slavery Protest circulated in Quaker meetings in Philadelphia and Burlington, N.J., generating storms of debate, but never winning approval.

″You could call it a failure,″ since slavery continued for nearly two more centuries, said the event’s coordinator, William Grassie.

″It went up through several levels of the Quaker heirarchy and then was bounced back to lower levels. There was no real agreement among them about how to approach the problem,″ said Robert Tatman, who helped plan the anniversary. The document asked hard questions of colonialists who had begun buying slaves as soon as William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682.

Pastorius came from Germany, where slavery was virtually unknown in the 17th century. He and three other settlers challenged the Quakers to uphold Penn’s ″Holy Experiment″ in freedom.

″Pray 3/8 What thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should robb or steal us away, & sell us for slaves to strange Countries, separating housband(s) from their wifes & children,″ the four settlers wrote.

″There is a saying that we shall do to all (people) like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are.″

The document helped fan later protests and ultimately prompted Quakers to forbid slavery in 1776. In 1780, Pennsylvania became the first state to pass a law leading to a gradual abolition of slavery within its borders, Grassie said.

The anniversary program will include a parade and rally April 23 in the north Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown, where the protest was written. A five-day leadership training program for 100 teen-agers also is planned as are an essay contest, lecture series and an original play. Mayor W. Wilson Goode, grandson of a slave, will sponsor a reception.

Anniversary organizers hope the events will mobilize public and private support for a $15 million plan to rehabilitate impoverished sections of Germantown and build a park dedicated to the document.

A plaque commemorating the 1688 document now stands in a sea of trash, junk cars and abandoned buildings. The house where it was written has been demolished, Grassie said.

The organizers also drafted a ″1988 Germantown Protest″ that is being circulated as a petition.

″While human slavery has been abolished in law,″ the organizers wrote, ″the callous disregard of life persists today in the abundant denial of basic human rights and needs. Our Germantown forebears would have us stand today with the homeless, the hungry, the unemployed and the neglected.″

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