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Online lecture looks at relationship between Mennonite and Black communities


An online lecture today (March 11) will see Dr. Timothy Epp present some of his findings from a decade of studying the relationship between Mennonites and the Black community.

Epp is taking part in 2021 Bechtel-Lecture-In-Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies. Recognizing Black History Month, this year’s lecture is “Blackness, Whiteness and the Anabaptists ‘Imagined Community’ in Print and Mission” deals with both the positive and negative relationship the Mennonite and Anabaptist communities have had with the Black community throughout history.

Epp’s interest in the topic emerged during a family vacation about 15 years ago in Grey County.

“I like to pick up pamphlets in the tourist area, which had icons indicating sites of Black history. We drove out to a little town called Priceville…  to the east of Durham. And that that was a scene of a Black settlement in a National Film Board film has been made of that settlement. But I began to be curious about this revealing of history. And so, I had a small grant them to study how people were receiving this kind of a revisionist history, but then I began to think, ‘well, I’m always talking about this as somebody else’s story – I wonder if there’s any connections to my own background in terms of being Mennonite?’”

Epp says the presentation is twofold. The first portion is focused on encounters between the two groups of people. The second is based around newspaper depictions of the Black community by Anabaptist and Mennonite publications, many of which would now be considered offensive.

What are today Wellesley and Woolwich townships were part of an area Black settlers first inhabited in Canada following their escape from the United States as part of the Underground Railroad. The settlement was called the Queen’s Bush Settlement and eventually saw some of the people head back to the U.S. following emancipation and to larger cities for more work opportunities. One of the settlement’s descendants is Toronto-based jazz musician Diana Braithwaite who will be performing as part of the presentation.

This year’s lecture will be the first Lester Bechtel, for whom the series is named, will not be in attendance following his passing on January 24.

“He had a vision of wanting research to be accessible by the broader community,” said Epp.

The event will be streamed for free on the Conrad Grebel University YouTube channel and will be followed by a question-and-answer period that will require registration. 

Epp said the findings of his research to encourage people to be more accepting of their neighbours.

“Look to beyond preconceptions. On the one hand, the preconception of Mennonites have always being helpful. We have had our positive relationships with other people across lines of race, with the Black people in the area. But there are also other accounts.

“We still have some racial division following last year with the Black Lives Matter movement. I think we really need again to get to know our neighbours across lines of cultural and racial divisions to really know each other in order to move forward to build those friendships that we need.”

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