Learning About John Brown & Black History at Harpers Ferry

When we realized how close we were to Harpers Ferry, we decided to head out for a visit. I read about four blogs about the park and heard all about the rivers, the Appalacian Trail, and the adventure center. I didn’t expect to learn much about John Brown and I certainly didn’t expect to learn anything about the Black experience.

Color me wrong, two times.

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Harpers Ferry & John Brown

The park has made a real effort to educate visitor’s about who John Brown was, why he felt so strongly that Black people shouldn’t be enslaved, and the backstory to the raid that was meant to get guns and ammunition to help Black people achieve the goal of freedom.

Not only is the firehouse where he and his men holed up available, but there are plaques that tell the story. You can’t miss them while you walk from the main street over the Appalachian Trail (over the bridge). There is also a museum called ‘The John Brown Museum’ that has videos, wax statues, and lots of background to the American John Brown experienced.

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Harpers Ferry & Storer College

I was surprised to learn that the first college for Black students was right there in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia! Apparently, there was a guy that believed that Black people should be education so strongly that he donated $10,000 in 1861 to create a college for Black folks.

Storer College had an uphill battle ahead (white people HATED the idea and went so far as to physically attack the staff and students) but managed to educate Black people until the mid-1950s. The campus still stands in the town. We didn’t walk up there because we are lazy (don’t judge me it was HOT) but next time, we’ll head over there.

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Harpers Ferry & Black History

There was also an African American Museum. It was closed due to water damage but when I peeked in the windows, you know I peeked in the windows, it looked really interesting. I’d go back again just to view this museum based on how well done the other historical parts of the park were.

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Harpers Ferry & The Niagra Movement

While in the museum about Storer College, there was a section about The Niagra Movement. Do you remember learning about Booker T. Washington (of Tuskegee Institute aka get-up-off-your-ass-and-make-it-happen fame) and his efforts to encourage Black folks to not worry about what others are doing and instead focus on building up their communities? Do you also remember that he had a difference of opinion with W.E.B. du Bois (Mr. We-need-the-white-folks-to-acknowledge-and-love-us fame) about the direction Black folks should go after slavery was abolished? Well, du Bois created The Niagra Movement and held the first big meeting of the group right there at Harpers Ferry. Go to the Storer College Museum. You can read all about it.

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We also hiked the Appalachian Trail for about ….  .4 miles. Lol We walked near the river and crossed the bridge. We ended up under the railroad tracks and the large, stone, tunnel sign proclaiming the town of Harpers Ferry. It was a cute, short walk with our toddler and preschooler.

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  • There is a fee if you don’t have an annual National Parks pass.
  • The tram will take you to a Civil War battle site (don’t get off) and then go to Harpers Ferry. The tram is free and comes about every 30 minutes.
  • The tram will let you off right outside of the downtown area. You walk into the town, pass the Book Shoppe, the mercantile, see a few folks in period costumes, stop at a few museums, grab something to eat at one of the restaurants, and do some hiking. All of the lower town can be walked in 5, maybe 10 minutes if you don’t stop.
  • You will see people in period costumes. You will see bills up for ‘runaway slaves’. You will see metal contraptions meant to enslave Black folks. It’s a bit scary but everyone was nice.


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Overall, we loved the park and look forward to returning. There is a fee, but if you have the America The Beautiful annual pass (or any of the other annual passes) you can park, take the tram down to the lower town, and enjoy everything for free.




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