A (very) brief history of Quakers was created at a Young Friends lock-in in Richmond, VA. With over 100,000 views on YouTube, it’s one of the most popular Quaker videos ever produced. Here’s how it happened.
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“Well, there was a guy named John Woolman. He first started off as a clerk and he had to do bills of sale for slaves, and that’s when he figured out that he couldn’t do it. He also went to Philadelphia. He convinced all of the Friends to get rid of slavery, and this was in, like the 1700s.”
Making a Viral Quaker Video
My name is Will Rogers. I live in Berkeley, California. I go to Berkeley Friends Meeting, and I’m a member of Palo Alto Friends Meeting. In 2012, I was living in Richmond, Virginia, attending Richmond Friends Meeting, and one of the members of the meeting, Barb, asked me to help make a video with the young Friends who were there.
“Um, when should I start? Ok. So… Well, to give it in a nice little package, ok…”
The video is called “A Brief History of Quakers,” and the way it worked was there was a lock-in, so the Young Friends spent all night in the meetinghouse and for a good hour and a half, maybe two hours, were researching Quaker history together and building out a timeline on a big scrap of butcher paper.
“I think the most I know is that George Fox is the one who got it started. George Fox and his lady friend Margaret Fell, in the 1640s-1650s kinda time in England”
…so I got each young friend to go into the library with me and tell me the whole story, as much as they could remember. I took that audio and chopped it up into a cohesive story with a bunch of different voices of different young friends and we developed an animation style that’s kind of an animation but there’s kind of human hands moving around.
“It sort of came to him that if people are created in the image of God, then everyone is equal, and there is no way that anyone can have a higher right to speak to God than anyone else.”
It was so fun. It was really fun to discover that kind of playmaking with them and that kind of video making. It’s been really fun to see it be popular on YouTube.
What We Can Learn From Quaker History
I had a general sense of the story of Quakerism before doing the video, and I definitely learned a lot through the process. The biggest thing for me that was interesting was James Naylor.
“There was a man named James Naylor, who was said to be another leader almost in the same rank as George Fox. He rode around in England. Other Quakers were following him around saying ‘holy holy!’ and stuff like that. They arrested him because they thought he was pretending to be Christ or trying to claim he was Christ. He said that he wasn’t claiming he was Christ, he said that people were following him around for the piece of Christ that was within him.”
And that was really interesting to me, that there was this guy who was also in who just, like, took things a little too far. I’m interested in that because I think that what we as Quakers are really interested in about Quaker history is how to be relevant. I think that a lot of Quakers are fairly comfortable right now in their more or less liberal views, whereas the original Quakers were doing, like… they were showing up to houses of worship and interrupting what was going on because they saw it as lying and it was up to them to correct the story. I feel like we today could be a lot more radical than we are.
How I Would Have Changed It
The video as it is now ends with the American Friends Service Committee receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, and it’s like, “Yay, Quakers are the best!” and it was very “pat ourselves on the back, we are so good,” and I don’t think that was a useful way to end it. Quaker history is still happening. We’re still building it. If I was to make the video again, I definitely would redo the ending and try to figure out how I could ask these young friends, “Ok, what’s your role going to be? You just learned about all these people, but what are you going to do now?”
- What’s the most fun group project you’ve ever worked on? Can you imagine doing something similar in your Quaker meeting?
- Will Rogers describes the process of producing the video, in which he recorded young friends individually recounting their version of Quaker history and spliced them together. What else did you notice about the video that made it enjoyable for you?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.