Anti-slavery efforts of Thomas Paine honored in Jan. 29 online event

Thomas Paine Memorial Association

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to be a part of a grand celebration honoring both the Jan. 29 birthday of Thomas Paine and Black History Month in recognition of his significant anti-slavery efforts.

The Thomas Paine Memorial Association, of which FFRF is an organizational member, is putting together a gala event on the occasion. The Thomas Paine Memorial Association has been charged by Congress with creating a long-overdue monument to this “Forgotten Founder” in Washington, D.C.

Members of Congress, educators, celebrities, politicians, social influencers and others are scheduled to appear throughout this greatly anticipated commemoration in admiration for Paine’s far-ahead-of-his-time views on racial issues. The guests include four members of Congress: Reps. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., Shontel M. Brown, D-Ohio, Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., the latter two serving as the association’s honorary co-chairs. They’ll be joined by National Museum of African American History & Culture Curator Teddy Reeves; Black Nonbelievers founder and President Mandisa Thomas; comedian Ty Barnett; poet Victor Harris; feminist/activist Dom Jones; emergency room doctor and nontheist activist Wil Jeudy; educator, author and historian Richard Newman; and Rice University Professor Anthony Pinn. Also participating will be event planners Thomas Paine Memorial Association President Margaret Downey and Board Member and history Professor Christopher Cameron, author of Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism.

Actor Ian Ruskin will recite a letter that Paine wrote to Thomas Jefferson, using the persona of an enslaved person to emphasize the urgency of ending slavery. Thomas Paine expert Gary Berton, president of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, will be in attendance to introduce the letter and answer questions. The 1808 letter, written seven months before Paine’s death, reveals a frustrated and angry abolitionist who had lost patience with those who participated in the horrificness of slavery. Musical performances by Cynthia McDonald, a member of Godless Gospel and leader of Chicago’s Black Nonbelievers chapter, will open and close the event.

“Thomas Paine stood for equality like no other Founder and more people should know his legacy,” says Downey. “This event will prove that Thomas Paine’s legacy should be honored and recognized. A Thomas Paine monument in Washington, D.C., is needed to complete the story of the founding of the United States of America.”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who serves as secretary of the Thomas Paine Memorial Association, concurs.

“In an era where American democracy has never been more imperiled, we view Thomas Paine as an exemplar and unifier,” Gaylor remarks. “The least we can do in our time is to show our appreciation — hopefully culminating soon with a memorial to him in our nation’s capital.”

A post-event social hour will allow audience participation. Sculptor Zenos Frudakis will Zoom from his studio in Glenside, Pennsylvania to show his clay statue of Thomas Paine, which may become a prototype for the statue at his planned memorial. Pre-registration for the event, which begins at 7 p.m. Eastern, is required. Below is the registration link:

The sponsors of the event are the Thomas Paine Memorial Association, Black Nonbelievers, the Secular Coalition for America, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Center for Inquiry and the Freethought Society. A bill sponsored by Reps. Raskin and Spartz was signed into law by President Biden in December 2022. The association is in the midst of finding a location and getting final approval for the monument. Learn more about the association and how to contribute to the monument at:

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