Remembering Our Safe Spaces

Remembering Our Safe Spaces

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Throughout history, individuals involved in civil rights and social justice work looked to their community institutions to provide safe places to gather.  Such unassuming, but special facilities continue to afford oppressed persons, groups, and organizations with physical spaces to assemble to voice their concerns, plan strategies, develop leaders, mobilize grassroots organizers, build movements, and create partnerships to work for social change.  Indigenous institutions such as churches, schools, and community centers play an important role as secure, accessible, and available facilities for people to assemble to carry out the work of social justice.  While there exist hundreds of institutions that support social justice efforts, several come to mind that have unique significance. 

Celebrating its 80th year, the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South.  Highlander has a long tradition of working with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability and supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny.

In St. Helena Island, South Carolina, Penn Center began as an experimental program to educate Sea Island slaves freed at the beginning of the Civil War.  It is now a site for training, planning and community service.  The Center sits in the heart of the Gullah culture and has as its mission to “preserve the unique history, culture and environment of the Sea Islands through serving as a local, national and international resource center, and by acting as a catalyst for the development of programs for self-sufficiency.”

From the moment people drive through the brick column entrance to the Franklinton Center at Bricks, in Whitakers, North Carolina, they are embraced by the center’s extravagant welcome of lush landscape, iconic pecan and magnolia trees, wide-open green spaces, spiritual tranquility, and elegant peacefulness.  Located on the grounds of a former slave plantation, the property became the first accredited school for African Americans in North Carolina in 1895 (Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial, and Normal School).  Currently the center is a conference and retreat center.  Its eclectic presentation of history, nature, modern conveniences make it an ideal place for reflection, retreating, and renewal.

The mission of Franklinton Center at Bricks (FCAB) is to promote social transformation by empowering people through training, education, community development, and direct action.  Over the years, the center has engaged in social change, equal rights, youth development, and racial justice activities locally, nationally, and globally.  It sponsors and hosts conferences, workshops, and training programs with groups such as local schools, churches, community development corporations, environmental justice groups, small farmers, labor unions, farm workers, cultural activists, etc.

FCAB is managed by Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) of the United Church of Christ.  At the center, JWM, sponsors initiatives related to sustainable agriculture, racial justice, literacy, voter education, health justice, environmental justice, spiritual formation, and leadership development.

Today, as a conference and retreat facility, Franklinton Center at Bricks is the perfect place to work, plan, and imagine what is possible in the ongoing struggle for justice, social transformation, and sustainability.



The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.

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