'Key to life is freedom'

Niagara Movement centennial commemorated

Niagara Movement centennial commemorated

August 20, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - This is what Anissa Chams-Eddine wrote on her quilt square Saturday during the Centennial Commemoration of the Niagara Movement in Harpers Ferry: "I know why I'm here, but why are you?"

It's a deep thought for a 10-year-old girl to have, and she expressed others when asked about the Niagara Movement, the precursor to the NAACP.

"I want to learn more about this," she said, saying she learned about the Civil War and Reconstruction in school, but not the Niagara Movement. "To make sure this won't happen again, because people are mistreated in other countries."

The Niagara Movement began when W.E.B. DuBois gathered together a group of like-minded people intent on establishing equal rights for blacks. The group first met in Canada and held its second meeting from Aug. 15-19, 1906, on the campus of Storer College, a now-closed college for black students in Harpers Ferry. Women were granted full and equal membership in the movement, which selected Harpers Ferry as the site for its second meeting in part because of their respect for John Brown.


Events commemorating the movement began Thursday and conclude today. Activities today include a pilgrimage to John Brown's fort starting at 7:30 a.m., speeches, music and children's activities.

At the J.R. Clifford Youth Discovery Tent Saturday, children could make a square for a Freedom Quilt, help to build a model-sized Freedom House by writing on a small block a word or phrase that answers the question, "What are the building blocks of freedom?" and were able to read aloud the words spoken by participants of the Niagara Movement.

Nena Stowell, a teacher at C.W. Shipley Elementary School in Jefferson County, was overseeing the quilt. Children learned how to alternate between light and dark-colored pieces of paper for their quilt square, and were asked to write or draw something in the middle that indicated what they believe freedom means.

"This quilt is hands-on, and it's getting them to think about what really happened on this hill," said Stowell, whose house partially overlooks the Storer College campus. "This was called the Hill of Hope by the students who went here."

Stowell said she is writing a book for children about the Niagara Movement.

"Guess what, it's not in our textbooks," she said.

Adia Maunt, 8, of Boston, was making a square for the quilt.

"(Freedom) means fighting for what I would really want," said Adia, who also commented on what the Niagara Movement meant.

"That people really want to stop the war and start fighting for things that mean a lot to them," she said.

Some of the finished quilt squares read, "Love, Justice, Equality"; "Guidance, Freedom, Hope"; and "The Key to Life is Freedom."

Doug Perks, a retired teacher, organized the activities in the children's tent.

"It's important for kids to experience history where history happened, and today, Aug. 19, is exactly 100 years from the conclusion of this meeting," Perks said.

Perks said this country's journey began in 1776, and that 1906 was an important point in the journey, since the Niagara Movement meeting helped lead to equality.

Along with experiencing history where it happened, Perks said he also hopes children take away another lesson.

"I hope that they appreciate the courage it took for these men to come here 100 years ago," Perks said. "The courage and conviction these men possessed."

Today's schedule

· 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. - Retracing the Pilgrimage to John Brown's Fort made during the 1906 Niagara Movement meeting. Free shuttle service provided to the Murphy Farm. The shuttle can be boarded from 6 to 7:15 a.m. at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park's Visitors Center off U.S. 340.

· 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - Harpers Ferry Historical Association Sales Tent, lawn

· 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - Great Blacks in Wax Exhibit, Mather, first floor

· 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - Du Bois Documentary, Mather, second floor

· 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - "The Niagara Movement & 20th Century Civil Rights Workers," Curtis Freewill Baptist Church

· 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. - Memorial Service, the Rev. Thomas J. Scott, Du Bois Tent

· Noon to 1 p.m. - "Odetta, Songs of Freedom & Inspiration," Murray Stage (Inclement weather site, Du Bois Tent)

· 1 to 2 p.m. - Howard Burns Ensemble, Harpers Ferry Center Patio

· 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. - "Reflections of W.E.B. Du Bois," Du Bois Tent

· 2:45 to 4 p.m. - Music by Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet, Murray Stage (Inclement weather site, Du Bois Tent)

· 3:45 to 4 p.m. - Closing Ceremony, presentation of Niagara Centennial Plaque followed by gathering for centennial photograph on Mather Lawn

Activities in the Clifford Youth Discovery Tent

· Freedom Quilt - Join an artist and contribute a square to the Freedom Quilt. The quilt's squares will portray the ideas of young people in response to the question, "What does freedom mean?" - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

· Freedom House - Using blocks of wood, write a word or phrase on the block that answers the question, "What are the building blocks of freedom?" Over the course of the weekend, the blocks will be assembled to build a Freedom House. - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Centennial commemoration events are free and open to the public. The national park is waiving its park entry fee today for the centennial.

Free shuttle service will be provided from the park's Visitors Center off U.S. 340 to the grounds of Storer College.

To get to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park's Visitors Center from Hagerstown, take Alternate U.S. 40 through Boonsboro to Md. 67 south. Take Md. 67 to U.S. 340 west toward Charles Town, W.Va., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. After crossing the Shenandoah River, and going about 3/4 of a mile, turn left at the first traffic light to get to the Visitors Center. There will be signs along U.S. 340 for the Visitors Center.

For more information, call 304-535-6298 or go to

The Herald-Mail Articles