Amazing Guy suggested that on our second day of driving into the southern part of these United States during the April school vacation we scoot over to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I initially thought that was a pretty bleak and boring suggestion. All I had was visions of some dilapidated shed with a marker saying "John Brown's Fort".
I couldn't have been more wrong.
"For Sale A NEGRO GIRL, about 9 years old...." A reproduction of a 1830 advertisement.
Harpers Ferry is part of the National Parks Service. It has a full and rich history in addition to being in a splendid part of the country. The name comes from Robert Harper and his ferry service that crossed the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Thomas Jefferson wrote after describing the view from an outcrop renamed "Jefferson's Rock" that "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."
View from Jefferson's Rock
In 1803 Merriweather Lewis traveled to Harpers Ferry to gather provisions and weapons for his and Clark's expedition across the unknown parts of the continent.
Kids looking out from Robert Harper's house.
While I was familiar with John Brown's raid and attempts to start a slave revolt in 1859, and his subsequent execution, I was completely ignorant of the continued role that Harpers Ferry played in the ongoing civil rights movement.
Harpers Ferry was captured and recaptured six times on September 15, 1862 during the Civil War.
Less than 10 years after Brown tried to incite an armed revolt, Storer College was founded and opened for all regardless of gender, race or religion. And in 1906 The Niagra Movement was founded, the precursor to the NAACP, by W.E.B. DuBois for two purposes; "organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believed in Negro freedom and growth," and opposition to "present methods of strangling honest criticism."
There were meticulous recreations of old stores and homes. We got to see tailor shops, boarding rooms and homes for the wealthy. We listened to recordings of actors portraying slaves describing their lives and activists talking about human rights in the late 19th century. We climbed stairs carved out of the mountainous rock. There were views of the Shenandoah Valley and trains rumbling by.
I was surprised at how few people were there. Often when I visit a place I will check it off in my mind as "been there, no need to return." Harpers Ferry is a place I want to revisit again. I hope others visit it too.
As we were leaving, little lady forlornly told Amazing Guy that she didn't see a ferry. He explained to her that there were no more boats to bring goods across the rivers.
"No" she replied. "One with wings."
So maybe not all of us were impressed.