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Faith of A Mustard Seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington
Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

His Atlanta University Years, (1897-1910; and 1934-1944 when he returned to Chair the Sociology Department) AND his ‘Great War’ 1919 ‘boots on the ground’ presence in the interviewing of Colored Troops in Paris where he wrote: “No nation on earth has ever hated a group as the Americans hate Negroes.” and “I can say solemnly and without hesitation: the greatest and most pressing & most imprtant work for the NAACP is the collection writing & publication of the history of the Negro troops in France.”;  are two major pieces of Du Bois history that will have to wait until Black History Month 2025.  If I were to study war this week, the telling of His unpublished manuscript: “The Wounded World” aka “The Wounded Soldier” would find priority here.  Compounded with the treatment and ultimate death of Colonel Charles Young, the only Black in highest ranking of the War. After which he took a trip around the world to all Nations involved and has a major ‘Watershed’ of his life.

Because of how misconstrued America’s Education has been in it’s portrayal of John Brown, it is extremely important, I believe, to take this final week in reference to his book simply entitled: “John Brown”.

I was elementary school educated to sing:

“John Brown’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave (3x)… His soul goes marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!  His soul is marching on

He captured Harper’s Ferry with his nineteen men so true

He frightened old Virginia till she trembled through and through

They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew.  His soul is marching on.

Du Bois writes: “Half-way between Maine and Florida, in the Heart of the Alleghanies, a mighty gateway lifts its head and discloses a scene which, a century and a quarter ago, Thomas Jefferson said was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”  Du Bois continues: “You stand on a very high point of land; on your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to find a vent; on your left approaches the Potomac, in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea.”  “This is Harper’s Ferry and this was the point which John Brown chose for his attack on American slavery.”  After stating several reasons why Brown chose Harper’s Ferry, one being that a United States arsenal was there, Du Bois states: “The foremost and decisive reason was that Harper’s Ferry was the safest natural entrance to the “Great Black Way”.

“the black belt” of slavery where there were massed in 1859 at least three of the four million slaves. Two paths led southward toward it in the East:—the way by Washington, physically broad and easy, but legally and socially barred to bondsmen; the other way, known to Harriet Tubman and all fugitives, which led to the left toward the crests of the Alleghanies and the gateway of Harper’s Ferry. One has but to glance at the mountains and swamps of the South to see the Great Black Way. Here, amid the mighty protection of overwhelming numbers, lay a path from slavery to freedom”.

“The Loudoun Heights rise boldly 500 to 700 feet above the village of Harper’s Ferry and 1,000 feet above the sea.”  “Right at this high point and insight of High Knob (a peak of 2,400 feet) began, in Fauquie r County, the Great Black Way.  In this county in 1850 were over 10,000 slaves, and 650 free Negroes, as compared with 9,875 whites. From this county to the southern boundary of Virginia was a series of black counties with a majority of slaves, containing in 1850 at least 260,000 Negroes. From here the Great Black Way went south as John Brown indicated in his diary and undoubtedly in the marked maps, which Virginia afterward hastily destroyed.”

“In 1845, Frederick Douglas was in England and, returning in 1847, he established his Paper and met John Brown. From that time on he was Brown’s chief Negro confidant, and in his house Brown’s Eastern campaign was started and largely carried on.  By 1870, Storer College was administered as a Normal Academy and was the only teacher-training institution for African Americans in the State of West Virginia. In 1881, 14 years after Storer’s founding, Frederick Douglass, one of the college’s trustees, delivered his address on John Brown which sent him running for his life.  In 1906, DuBois established the Niagara Movement giving the small college national prominence from it’s historical perch at Harper’s Ferry.

What, then, was the truth about the matter? It was as Frederick Douglass said twenty-two years later on the very spot: “If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did, at least, begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places, and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harper’s Ferry and the arsenal, not Major Anderson, but John Brown began the war that ended American slavery, and made this a free republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy, and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes, and compromises. When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared,—the armed hosts of freedom stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union, and the clash of arms was at hand.”

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