SermonsJohn Brown

Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, part II

Plaque on the armory where John Brown made his last stand. Storer College was established
for Black students in the 19th century.

Catoctin Furnace

The next day, February 19, we stopped in Maryland to see the Catoctin furnace, where excavators had recently uncovered the graveyard of enslaved people who worked in the furnace.

The plaques included the work and lives of enslaved people.
The photo above the poem is what the cemetery actually looks like. We were unable to see it.
Names of enslaved workers at the Catoctin furnace
I took this picture and the following picture from the viewing platform. As you can see,
nothing resembling the slave cemetery is immediately visible.
Plaque on the viewing platform for the enslaved peoples’ cemetery.

Harpers Ferry

After Catoctin Furnace, we spent the remainder of the day in Harpers Ferry with our friend Jane from DC and visited the site where John Brown tried to start the war to end slavery. I was surprised that the armory where Brown made his last stand was so small. Of all the arsenals in states where the war was fought, John Brown’s Fort, as people came to call it, was the only one to survive the Civil War. When it fell into disrepair, Alumni from Storer College, a school for black students, restored it.

Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour, part II

Plaque on the armory where John Brown made his last stand. Storer College was established
for Black students in the 19th century.

I should mention that Harpers Ferry itself is what people call “charming,” all cobblestones and scenery. Jane enjoys visiting there because it’s along the Potomac River and full of hiking trails. Most of the town is National Park Area.

Below are some plaques at the site. It’s good to keep in mind that John Brown thought he was on a mission from God to free enslaved people because he understood the miseries under which they were living. The young people with him were in their late teens and early twenties—university students who thoroughly believed in this mission.

The Kennedy House

Four miles away from Harpers Ferry, the Kennedy House is preserved as the site from which Brown and his comrades left early in the morning to launch their raid on the armory.

All the people who were with John Brown. Notice their ages.
A closer look at the Kennedy House.

Reflections? I still believe in the power of nonviolence. And obviously, the Underground Railroad was largely a nonviolent enterprise. But given that the life of an average enslaved person, once he began working in the sugarcane fields, was seven years, the mass rapes of slave women, the torture of enslaved people with impunity. I do not condemn John Brown. The fault of the Civil War lies with people who did not care enough about the lives of enslaved people from 1619 onwards.

Charlottesville

On our way to Greensboro the next day, we decided to stop in Charlottesville, VA, because a high school friend of Michael’s is the rabbi of the synagogue there. But before our meeting, we stopped to see the place where Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist who drove into a crowd of people who had come out to protest the 2017 “Unite the Right” Rally.

James Alex Fields, Jr. injured 35 other people in addition to killing Heyer. Fields, 20, had previously expressed neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs, driving from Ohio to attend the rally. In 2019, state court convicted him for the first-degree murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, eight counts of malicious wounding, and hit and run, sentencing him to life in prison plus an additional 419 years. Fields also pled guilty to 29 of 30 federal hate crime charges to avoid the death penalty, resulting in another life sentence in June 2019.

Heather Heyer, ¡Presente!
She had a street named after her
People keep refreshing the Heather Heyer memorial when the city or
unsympathetic individuals try to remove it.

At the Charlottesville courthouse is a plaque commemorating John Henry James’ lynching. Like many of these plaques, the Equal Justice Initiative was responsible for erecting it.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz had more than 15 minutes of fame after the “Unite the Right” Rally in 2017. All the major news organizations wanted to know how his congregation had fared when Nazis surrounded their synagogue. His congregation decided the only irreplaceable items in the temple were sacred items they had adopted from a Jewish community destroyed in the Holocaust. So they removed these from safekeeping, but besides that precaution, they were in the streets with those standing against the rightwingers invading the town. Tom is also active in interfaith activity with area clergy. You can read some of his thoughts here.

Tom wants people to know he’s not as severe as he appears in this accidental GIF.
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