Harpers Ferry Park Pays Tribute To Graduates of Black College
HARPERS FERRY, W.Va.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has begun a five-year effort to pay tribute to graduates of Storer College, which was established after the Civil War to help former slaves get an education.
The park’s first exhibit opened last month, honoring the life and work of jazz arranger Don Redman, who graduated from the school in 1920. Over the next five years, the park will showcase other Storer College graduates who distinguished themselves in their respective fields despite the barriers they faced. The list includes businessmen, politicians, educators, authors and musicians, says Todd Bolton, branch chief of visitors’ services.
About 300,000 former slaves were living in the Shenandoah Valley after the Civil War, and few were prepared “to face the challenges of living free in a society of racial discrimination and limited opportunity,” Bolton says.
Storer College started as a one-room schoolhouse to teach the basics. But it soon grew into a degree-granting educational facility open to all races, religions and sexes. The college closed its doors in 1955 because of a lack of funding.
Jazz trombonist Benny Powell appeared at the Harpers Ferry park’s John Brown Museum to help kick off the exhibit honoring Redman. Powell said Redman never achieved the attention he deserved in life, but since his death in 1964, jazz historians have agreed that he revolutionized jazz through subtle changes in the way bands are organized.
Future exhibits at Harpers Ferry will honor J.R. Clifford, an 1875 graduate who was the first Black lawyer in West Virginia and owner of the first Black newspaper; Coralie Franklin Cook, an 1880 graduate who was a professor at Howard University; Joseph Jeffrey Walters, an 1885 graduate who wrote the first African novel published in English, Guanya Pau; and Nnamdi Azikiwe, a 1928 graduate who became president of Nigeria.
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