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Early History of Durham Meeting

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Early History of Durham Meeting

Founding and Early Years

The Durham Monthly Meeting of Friends had its inception at a small supper meeting held November 14, 1937 in the home of  Elbert and Lieuetta Russell near Duke University campus.  A renown Friend, Dr. Russell had been Dean of the Duke School of Religion (later Divinity School) for eight years.  Several faculty members having various Quaker affiliations had been invited.  In his autobiography, Dr. Russell writes that “We continued to meet each month at members’ homes through the academic year.  This grew into the Durham Friends Meeting.”  [351]  The following year, the group was meeting monthly in the “social room” of the Divinity School.

Attendance grew during the years of the second World War largely because of the presence on Duke campus of a number of Civilian Public Service workers assigned to work in the Medical School. Though only a few were Friends, a number of these conscientious objectors to war found fellowship with the small worship group.  On Sunday, December 12th, 1943, Durham Monthly Meeting of Friends was formally established as an independent monthly meeting under the auspices of the American Friends Fellowship Council in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Under this arrangement, the Meeting could grow as a recognized body without first having to establish its association with a Yearly Meeting.  Yet attenders could become members of the fledgling Meeting without giving up meeting or church memberships already established elsewhere.

Recorded minutes of monthly meetings for business date from that first 1943 meeting.  The records of the next two years show the members considering such issues as whether to extend the number of meetings for worship from 1 to two per month, how to establish the meetings’ membership records, what literature to have available, and when to consider the queries.  On April 9, 1944, the “major portion of the business meeting was devoted to a discussion of possible cooperation with the EDGEMONT COMMUNITY CENTER, of Durham.”  Over the next two years, Meeting members contributed childrens’ books and supplies.  It provided bookshelves for a new CENTER building during the Fall of 1945.  Following the end of World War II, the Meeting was concerned about reconstruction in Europe, and raised funds to send food packages to Germany and central Europe through Quaker agencies.

Records also indicate that attendance was often between 15 and 25 members and guests, but sometimes less than ten and occasionally as many as 40.   The question of how to bring more young people - especially college students - into the Meeting recurs several times.

Minutes of December 14, 1947, record the decision to begin meeting each Sunday evening, not just on the second and fourth Sundays of each month.  Interest in holding meeting for worship during a daytime hour and establishing a “First-day nursery, to free parents to attend meetings for worship”, are minuted in tenth month, 1949.  A “Building Fund” appears as a new item in the Meeting budget of 1950.  By first month 1952, the Building Fund had grown to $150 and Friends began to look for a suitable plot of land on which to build.

A report dated May 1, 1949, lists three Elders of the Meeting:  Susan Gower Smith, Donald K. Adams and Katharine M. Banham.  Minutes of 3rd month, 1952, record the appointment of four additional elders: Willard Berry, Edward Kraybill, Catherine Pierce and Francis Jeffers.  The following Friends served as clerk: Edward K. Kraybill (1943-47), William Van Hoy, Jr. (1947-48), John de J. Pemberton, Jr. (1949), Harry R. Stevens (1950-51), John A. Barlow (1951-52), Susan Gower Smith (1952-57).  During the first 15 years, Durham Friends met in several locations on Duke campus - the Divinity School’s Social Room, York Chapel and the basement at the rear of the University Chapel - and on occasion in members’ homes.  The year 1952 would become a watershed.

Building a Meetinghouse

David and Susan Gower Smith must be credited with nurturing the Meeting through the early years.  Present at that first supper and meeting for worship, they remained faithful members until they left Durham in December, 1979.  David T. Smith was one of the original professors in the Duke University School of Medicine where he taught microbiology and pathology until his retirement.  In their early years at Duke, David and Susan performed research into the cures for pellagra, a disease widespread in the South at the time.

In 1952, David and Susan were instrumental in obtaining for the Meeting three adjacent parcels of land located on Alexander Street, just West of Duke University’s West campus.  At first, Friends met in a wooden structure that was relocated on the recently-purchased land.  A simple brick meetinghouse was then built. On September 12, 1956 this new building was dedicated to the memory of Elbert Russell (1871-1951).  Dr. Russell, former professor of Biblical studies at Earlham College (1903-1915) and Dean of the School of Religion, Duke University (1928-1933), was a well-known Quaker author, scholar and preacher who expressed a deep faith in mystical Christianity.

Relating to the Wider Community of Friends

Nurtured during the early 1950’s by Friends in Woodland, NC Rich Square Meeting, Durham Friends joined North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) on November 14, 1954.

The Piedmont Friends Fellowship evolved from a quarterly meeting of NC Yearly Meeting-FUM held in the Fall of 1968 at Quaker Lake Conference Center.  Claude Shotts of Chapel Hill Monthly Meeting, which at that time was still affiliated with NCYM-FUM, suggested that the particular needs of unprogrammed meetings in this region might better be met by a separate organization.   Among several concerns, it was clear that the yearly meeting body was unable to consider Friends’ response to the continued prosecution of the war in Vietnam.   John Hunter from Durham Meeting was asked to organize such a meeting.  The first gathering of what became known as Piedmont Friends Fellowship was held at Carolina Friends School on a Saturday in early December of that year.  Friends attending represented Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh unprogrammed meetings as well as Friends from Greensboro.

At the May 1969 retreat held at Quaker Lake, a young soldier from Fort Bragg attended and asked for the support of Friends.  Bob Gwyn of Chapel Hill raised the idea of supporting a military counseling service.  Thus began a series of steps that resulted in the creation of Quaker House of Fayetteville.

In 1975, PFF became affiliated with Friends General Conference.  Thus Durham Meeting maintains connections with two branches of non-programmed Friends:  “Conservative” Friends through the Yearly Meeting and the Liberal or Hicksite branch through PFF/FGC.

Starting a Friends School

In early 1962, informal discussions among Durham and Chapel Hill Friends raised the notion of founding an integrated school as an appropriate response to the segregated public facilities.  A special School Committee was convened, and attended by Mildred Ringwalt, Adolph and Christa Furth, David and Susan Smith, Peter and Martha Klopfer.  Plans developed rapidly thereafter.  First the Durham Meeting, then the Chapel Hill Meeting agreed to allow their facilities to be used; then the Claremore Fund (a California Foundation interested in  furthering the cause of integration) awarded the Committee $6000; finally the Committee secured Articles of Incorporation and tax exempt status.  This was in 1963.

Because of the divisions among Friends as to the wisdom of establishing a school, as well as the small number of Meeting children, it was decided to establish the school corporation as an independent entity.  However, the closest possible ties to the Meetings and adherence to Friends' principles were to be assured by having 2/3 of the Board of Directors chosen by and from the Meetings.  While the prevailing pattern of segregation was the proximate stimulus for starting the school, all were agreed that, in the long run, it was the demonstration of Quaker values in an institutional setting that was most vital.

The members of the original Board were Naomi Adams, Richard Fillmore, Adolph and Christa Furth, Martha and Peter Klopfer, Mildred Ringwalt, Martha Rachman, James Shotts, David and Susan Smith and Stuart Willis.  Mildred Ringwalt was the original Chairman of the Board, followed by David Smith, Stuart Willis and Peter Klopfer.  John Stratton from Durham Meeting became Chairman in 1974 followed by Martha Klopfer in 1986 and then David Stuart in 1995.  Sponsors who lent their names to the enterprise were George Bliss, Heinz Bondy, John Dozier, Carl Durham, Frank Graham, George Herbert, Carmelita Hinton, William Hubben, Weston LeBarre, Albert Manley, Algie Newlin, Clarence Pickett, Mary Semans, Claude Shotts, Asa Spaulding, Douglas Steere, Howard Thurman, and John Wheeler.

The first class of Seniors graduated from CFS in 1972.