The Shakers are well known for their welcome to everyone—regardless of race or national origin—who left “the world,” pledged celibacy, and gave themselves completely to the Church. Indeed, throughout the 19th century, most Shaker communities included men and women of color.
Though the Shakers welcomed members of color, there were never very many (except in the Kentucky communities), and instances of racism persisted. For example, writing in the early 1940s, one Shaker Elder at Mount Lebanon expressed regret at integration. Given such contradictions between belief and practice, what drew Black Americans and other people of color to the Church? The answer was surely different for everyone, but the mere aspiration of racial equality—hardly embraced in 19th century America at large—likely played a part.
Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.