“We thank thee at this 50th Anniversary. Fifty years ago our people came here harboring nothing but hostility. Since then, we have made great progress.” The Rev. Benjamin Brave, Sr. — better known as Ben Brave — spoke these words on September 3, 1932, at Standing Rock Reservation on the North Dakota border. A group had gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of “the hostile bands” in 1882.
The 19th century was a tumultuous era for American Indian and Indigenous communities. The United States government pushed Natives from their land, fought them and enforced regulations through new treaties and laws. One such treaty was signed in 1882 at the Standing Rock Agency — the event commemorated by Ben Brave’s prayer.
The United States government has inflicted much suffering upon Indigenous tribes, with a lot of reparative work being done in the last few decades. The Presbyterian church was influential in the history of American Indians — both positively and negatively. The Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) is consistently working to eradicate and repair harmful language, narratives or items found in our collections related to the treatment and history of the Indigenous peoples of our nation.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment and suspicion gripped the United States. This led to the unfortunate and drastic policy adopted by the Roosevelt administration: virtually all Japanese Americans (of whom there were around 120,000, two-thirds full U.S. citizens) were forced into “relocation centers,” or war camps, for the remainder of World War II.
In late September 1943, the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council published a pamphlet that its leaders hoped would encourage churches and colleges to assist in relocation efforts, primarily for students. The pamphlet states that, “Both the public and the academic world have become interested in a group of young people on the West Coast, who, with their families, now over a year and a half ago were taken from their homes and their former schools and sent to Relocation Projects, where there was sudden and complete collapse of all that stood for real home life and American college educational opportunity.”
The NJASRC was established three months after Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, the policy that authorized the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. The organization, working with students, their families, college administrators and church mission boards, ultimately assisted in the resettlement of more than 4,000 students at various institutions across the nation. The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s Board of Christian Education most likely partook in this, evidenced by the above pamphlet from its archival collection.
Richard Townsend Ferrell, better known as Dick Ferrell, was featured in the September 17, 1949, edition of “Presbyterian Life.” The publication’s eighth installation of its “missionary biography” series detailed Ferrell’s work as a Presbyterian minister and evangelist to the logging camps dotting the Northwest.
As more men had been recruited into the logging industry at the turn of the 20th century, it became apparent that — because they followed jobs from place to place, often living in isolated areas — lumberjacks were in want of a mobile ministry. In 1914, Dick Ferrell was commissioned to do logging camp work in northern Idaho by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of Home Missions. Influenced by Frank E. Higgins, a popular Presbyterian minister among northern Minnesota lumberjacks, Ferrell gained the acceptance and respect of the loggers by working alongside them in the forests. An ex-prizefighter and blacksmith, Ferrell lacked a formal education. But what he lacked in education, he made up for with religious passion. As he continued preaching among the lumberjacks of the Northwest, his parish realm widened to include Eastern Washington and a bit of Western Montana. His duties also expanded, as he began to perform marriage rites, baptisms and establishing Sunday schools among the logging families.
Ferrell’s influence and efforts were recognized nationwide, leading to the feature article about his “Timberland Parish.”
In 1999, Freda Gardner became moderator of the 211th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A few months into the role, Gardner — who is also known for being the first permanent woman faculty member of Princeton Theological Seminary — penned a letter to her friend, Fred Rogers. On September 27, she received his reply, which now lives in PHS’s archives. “I was happy to receive your thoughtful letter,” Rogers wrote, before expressing his hope that he could fulfill whatever request she had made of him. “I’d like to be of help.”
Fred Rogers is now a household name. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” his long-running television show, first aired in February 1968. Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, taught generations of children the quintessentially Christian — but profoundly universal —message: “Love yourself, love others.” Gardner’s letter arrived in Rogers’ mailbox a year before he retired from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in 2000. Though we are unsure if Rogers was able to give the speech that Freda invited him to, it’s lovely to know that the two were in touch.
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