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Rename William Penn House

Published: Jan. 15, 2021


The violent insurrection in the U.S. Capitol last week was yet another demonstration of how far we are from the world we seek. We saw racist, anti-Semitic hate on display as the violent mob terrorized the members of Congress. It confirmed this country’s gaping political divisions evidenced by the extremist conspiracy-driven behavior of white nationalism.  

At Friends Committee on National Legislation, we see how profoundly important our work is now – to engage people across the country in our advocacy for peace, justice and an earth restored.

Just as we advocate to root out systemic racism in federal policy, we must also acknowledge and change the systemic racism in our own organization and within the Religious Society of Friends. 

We write to you now to share our decision about changing the name of the William Penn House.

William Penn, a moral authority for many Friends, was also an enslaver. He actively obtained enslaved humans from the first slave ship that docked in Philadelphia and enslaved at least twelve persons at his estate Pennsbury Manor.

We seek a new name that welcomes all peoples to gather in this center for Quaker civic engagement. Changing the name is only one step in the anti-racist work that we must all be about. As we fully develop dynamic programs at this Capitol Hill property, telling the full history of the Religious Society of Friends will be one way we own the foundations of white supremacy.

We invite you to consider a new name for the building. The new name will not feature any one person. It will hold up our mission: “to provide friendly hospitality and support for activism and education that builds FCNL’s mission to live a prophetic, Quaker vision for a peaceful, just, and healthy planet through education, lobbying, and grassroots advocacy.” We hope the new name will communicate many of the following elements:

Please send your suggestions to names-AT-fcnl-DOT-org by January 25, 2021.

The William Penn House Board’s working group on name change, including Abigail Adams, Jonathan Brown, Lauren Brownlee, and Bill Hobson, will use the suggestions as they discern a recommendation to bring to the William Penn House Board meeting in February.

from Ron Ferguson, Clerk, FCNL General Committee (1/12/2020)