In the 1920s, AFSC hired Crystal Bird, a young African American woman, to travel the country and speak about “the problems, needs, and culture of the colored race.” This first effort to bridge the racial divide was followed by decades of work to combat lynching, expand employment and housing opportunities, and integrate public schools. Impressed by the nonviolent civil rights leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., AFSC became one of his early supporters. We published 50,000 copies of King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” which confronted the failure of faith groups to stand up for racial equality.

Following the 1954 Supreme Court decision ordering desegregation of public schools, our Southern Program helped Black families enroll their children in formerly white schools. In Prince Edward County, Virginia, where the school board closed their schools rather than integrate, we placed dozens of Black high school students in northern schools. AFSC also played a prominent role in the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, raising issues of economic and racial equality.

Today, our commitment to racial justice continues as we examine structural racism within our own organization and support a new generation of activists confronting racism in our culture.

Learn More

  • Photo portrait of a woman.
    AFSC’s Interracial Section was created in 1925 to address racial prejudice and violence. AFSC staffer Crystal Bird spoke with thousands of white Americans about race and racism.
  • Three women standing in front of a car.
    AFSC integrated our work camps and Peace Caravans (shown here) in the 1930s, helping young people overcome the rigid segregation of their upbringing.
  • Man speaks with two women.
    After World War II, we set up a race relations department headed by James Fleming, the first African American executive within AFSC. He challenged businesses to hire people of color in meaningful positions, and brought professors from historically Black colleges to speak at white institutions.
  • Young men and women sit together on a lawn.
    Bayard Rustin (center) attended an AFSC High School Institute for International Relations in 1947. Although he was one of the primary strategists of the Civil Rights Movement, he was deprived of recognition at the time because he was homosexual.
  • Two men and a woman sit together, facing the same direction.
    Connie Curry, the first white woman on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), served as AFSC’s Southern field representative from 1964 to 1975. Her book “Silver Rights” tells the story of a rural Mississippi family’s struggle for their rights.
  • Woman smiles as she stands in front of a podium with a microphone.
    From 1957 to 1965, Jean Fairfax ran AFSC’s Southern Program, supporting Black families as they resisted white supremacists in the battle over school integration, especially in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
  • Two young men do schoolwork at a table with teacher behind, working with other students.
    AFSC helped find northern homes and schools for many of Prince Edward County’s African American high school students in the 1960s. We also built and ran an integrated school there, and studied patterns of housing segregation.
  • Cover of a pamphlet by Bayard Rustin, published by AFSC.
    This AFSC brochure, written by Bayard Rustin, concludes, “… for I see clearly how resort to violence dehumanizes all who are caught up in its whirlpool.”
  • Man walks backwards, arms outstretched, in front of a large group of people marching, signs in hand.
    AFSC endorsed the 1963 March on Washington. We also published and distributed nearly 50,000 copies of the King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.”
  • Two women walk by a building made of plywood with the words "Philly head-quarter" painted on the side.
    “…One million must replace the one who has been shot down,” wrote AFSC’s Steve Cary from the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., the day after King’s assassination in 1968. He urged all faith leaders to arouse a “massive convocation of conscience.”
  • Man speaks into a microphone held by a reporter, filmed by other staff.
    According to Steve Cary, “King and the civil rights movement played a big role in the AFSC’s evolving understanding of nonviolence. …[our] stand against violence expanded to include the roots of violence—injustice, poverty, and oppression.”
  • Man standing on a step above a crowd speaks into a megaphone.
    In 1970, AFSC hired labor activist Tyree Scott (right) to head the newly formed United Construction Workers Association (UCWA). Scott led a decades-long effort to organize workers and fight discrimination in the unions and construction trades in Seattle. Photo courtesy of United Construction Workers Association Project.
  • Group of people cheer and clap while holding signs referencing Dr. Martin Luther King.
    AFSC staff worked tirelessly for a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The federal bill finally passed in 1983, but not all states followed suit. In New Hampshire, it took until 1991.
  • Young adults sitting in chairs and on the ground in a circle.
    Since 2001 in Seattle, our Tyree Scott Freedom School and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) group have provided anti-racist education and encouraged youth to take action for social change in their schools and communities.
  • Woman holds a sign that says "All Black Lives Matter"
    Following the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and New York—and around the country—AFSC has supported a new generation of racial justice activists who are challenging entrenched racism.
  • Young people seated in chairs in a circle talk with one another.
    In 2014, our first St. Louis Freedom School provided a chance for young leaders to learn, share, and develop strategies in a post-Ferguson world.
  • Multi-age group stands in front of a colorful mural.
    AFSC’s 67 Sueños group organized a 2015 mural project in San Francisco to expose issues affecting Black and Latino communities and promote “Black-Brown unity.”