The Conscience Bay Meetinghouse Photographs

In May 1967 unknown persons defaced the Conscience Bay Friends Meetinghouse on the north shore of Long Island. During the night they painted on its walls, “TREASON! TRAITORS! THERE CAN BE NO COMPRIMISE [sic] WITH COMMIES!; $10,000 FOR V.C., A KNIFE IN THE BACK FOR AMERICAN G.I.’S; THE AMERICAN DEAD WILL BE AVENGED!” Several hammer-and-sickle emblems and the words “SAT CONG” also decorated the Meetinghouse. (“SAT CONG” translates as “Kill Communists”). And next to the entrance was scrawled: “THIS IS A GOD-IS-DEAD SO-CALLED ‘CHURCH.’ ” The slogans were in red and brown paint, some of them two feet high.

Conscience Bay Quakers had witnessed for peace during the Vietnam War, writing letters to government officials, giving speeches and joining demonstrations. They had published an American Friends Service Committee statement about the war in local newspapers. As well, they had sent money to Canadian Friends to be forwarded to North Vietnam and to the ship the Phoenix, both contributions to be used for medical supplies for civilians.

Conscience Bay Friends met together, in shock and sadness, after the incident. Considering several options, they decided that they would notify the police, since the vandalism was a felony, but would not prosecute if the vandals were arrested; issue a brief statement to the press; and schedule a time to repaint the Meetinghouse, inviting all who wished to help.

On May 21, about 200 volunteers, including 40 Conscience Bay Quakers, gathered at the Meetinghouse. Included were three Catholic priests, two Unitarian and two Episcopalian ministers, along with members of their congregations, as well as members of the neighboring Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist churches, Temple Isaiah and the Ethical Culture Society. Friends from Westbury and Fifteenth Street Meetings and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Suffolk County Human Relations Commission also came. Some people were not affiliated with any group. Others had called or wrote or sent checks for the paint. A local painter said that he would paint the Meetinghouse for free if “they make a mess of it”. Most of the paint was donated by the Pentagon Chemical and Paint Works in Brooklyn.

People mixed paint, climbed ladders, scraped walls and painted. At one point, so many volunteers had shown up that there was a line waiting to make a symbolic stroke of paint. Children scampered round. Friends served sandwiches and coffee and tried to get everyone to sign the guestbook. By the end of the day, the Meetinghouse had received two coats of paint.

George Nicklin of Westbury and Shelter Island Meetings took two photographs of the work party. One is a close-up; the other is a long shot. Above is the close-up.

In the late 1990’s, I delivered one of my “Quaker Artists” talks to Long Island Quarterly Meeting when it gathered at Conscience Bay Meeting. I was very moved by my visit to the site of this luminous response to hate.

Gary Sandman

August 2021

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