by Nakia Herring
Baltimore Times, July 20,2006
Harpers Ferry, West Va. - Abolitionist John Brown was considered a man of action for his stance on slavery. On October 16, 1859, Brown would lead 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). His plan to arm slaves with weapons he had taken from the arsenal was thwarted by Colonel Robert E. Lee, whose soldiers killed or captured most of Brown’s men. Brown was also captured, tried, sentenced and executed. Brown grew up in a family that opposed slavery.
It was not until 1855 that Brown would become a significant player against slavery; when he became the leader of antislavery guerrillas and fought a proslavery attack against the town of Lawrence, Kansas. For his acts to bring justice to the enslaved, W.E.B. DuBois and attendants of the 1932 Washington NAACP convention, would make the same journey back to Harpers Ferry, to honor Brown with “The Great Tablet,” to be left at historically black Storer College. In 1932, the college denied permission of dedicating the tablet, saying the tablet was too militant.
On July 14, 2006, 74 years after the refusal, the NAACP, who was meeting for their 97th convention in Washington, D.C., returned to Harpers Ferry to lay “The Great Tablet” honoring Brown at Storer College, who now welcomed the tablet with open arms. The re-enactment is part of a series of NAACP events leading up to the organization's centennial celebration in 2009.On a beautiful day, NAACP members, young and old, gathered for this historic moment, taking an eight-car train ride to Harpers Ferry. Dr, Benjamin L. Hooks, NAACP executive director emeritus and the Reverend Theresa A. Dear, NAACP Board of Directors member co-presided over the event. The Bradford Singers of Harpers Ferry provided musical selections.
“History has been recorded throughout the year and today we revisit history and simultaneously we make history,” says Rev. Dear. Dr. Hooks, who has been executive director of the NAACP since 1977 said, “As the NAACP launches a series of commemorations to celebrate the 100th year of our existence, Harpers Ferry is a major landmark in this historical journey in retracing the Niagara Movement. For indeed in 1906, 100 years ago this year, the Niagara Movement held its second meeting in Harpers Ferry.”
“Today, we at the NAACP come back to finalize what W.E.B. DuBois initiated in 1932, but was thwarted by the then president of Storer College,” he said. The Mayor of Harpers Ferry James Addy welcomed the NAACP and those who traveled to be a part of the historic day.
“Today we pay tribute to John Brown, his people, the martyrs to his cause, W.E.B. DuBois, those people who initiated the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. We are here to right a wrong that was committed in 1932. We do this in order to say most loudly, this is not for ourselves alone,” said Addy. George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County NAACP in Ranson, West Virginia was proud to have the tablet home where it belongs. “This is a very historical day. It has taken 74 years to complete the erection of this tablet, but the NAACP still prevailed. I am sure that Dr. DuBois and the 1932 members are smiling down on us today and saying well done,” said Rutherford. Mary Harris, president of the Storer College Alumni Association brought greetings from her colleagues. “It is an honor to stand on these grounds and witness the accomplishments of an endeavor 74 years ago, the placing of “The Great Tablet.”
Since 1932, John Brown's Fort has been relocated several times, and the Storer College campus no longer exists. We are blessed for the opportunity to participate in this historical moment,” she said. In another announcement, Michael Ward, chairman, president and CEO, CSX Corporation said that the historic eight-car train that was taken to Harpers Ferry, would be dedicated to A. Philip Randolph.After Roslyn M. Brock, vice chair, NAACP National Board of Directors and chair NAACP Convention Planning Committee reminisced about Saturday, May 21, 1932 and the pilgrimage to Harpers Ferry, “The Great Tablet” was blessed by the Reverend Morris L. Shearin, Sr. and re-presented by Julian Bond, chair, NAACP National Board of Directors, Bruce S. Gordon, NAACP president and CEO and the Most Worshipful Past Grand Masters of Prince Hall Masons.
“To complete Dr. DuBois' mission of 1932, to honor John Brown, to execute the NAACP's long documented role in honoring persons who fight for justice and equality and in the presence of this great audience and the Masons from Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia and West Virginia, I hereby lay this great tablet,” said Bond. Gordon, the current NAACP president said, “We stand here today representing 300,000 NAACP members across the country and around the world. We represent our 2,200 friends and units around the world, as we execute this deed so that others for many years to come will know the history of John Brown and acknowledge John Brown. It is our duty and responsibility to be certain that our young people and future generations know what he did for this country and for our people.”
As the day went on, the Rev. Dear called the roll of civil rights pioneers as related to Harpers Ferry, which included: Prince Hall Masons, Du Bois Circle, Pullman Porters and the NAACP. Jane White Viazzi, daughter of the late Walter White, NAACP executive secretary reminisced about the Niagara Movement.At the closing of the event, all whom attended the historic event posed for a commemorative photograph in front of Anthony Hall at Storer College. The photograph represents the re-presentation of the “The Great Tablet” 74 years later.