Is Charlottesville Another Kind of Harpers Ferry?
That night, the twenty-two armed men were probably frightened. They didn’t have much combat experience. They didn’t have much training. What they lacked in fighting skill they compensated for with 198 long barrel breach-loading rifles, sent to them in hopes that their guerrilla act, an act that could be considered terrorism, would free enslaved men.
John Brown, an abolitionist from Connecticut, led the small force to overtake the military armory and Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and seize the weapons in store. What Brown hoped to achieve was a massive slave uprising. His hopes when he was surrounded by the local military forces. They fought for two day and both sides suffered casualties as well as civilian bystanders.
The raid on Harpers Ferry took place over two bloody days in October of 1859, a year and a half before The Civil War broke out in 1861. The importance of the event is that it changed the conversation in the North on the topic of slavery. The question of the day changed from, “What will we do about slavery,” to “How are we going to end it?” John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and his execution became the flint stones that would ignite the tinder of differences between the North and South. An undeniable catalytic event, that Brown planned and carried out, even with those around him, including Frederick Douglass, telling him he’d die.
During his trial, Brown said to the court, “I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, the design on my part to free slaves […] I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property…”
Despite their failure, Brown and his men acted with courage.
So how is Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in any way like the events that took place at Charlottesville? The gulf between the ideologies represented on the aggressors’ sides is matched by the distance of time separating the events. In the grander scheme, they may both be marked as watershed moments in American history of a time one opposing ideologies turned violent toward each other. Numerous websites, from The Daily Beast to US News, mention the concept of a new American Civil War, either as a conflict of ideas happening between The Left and The Right, or an oncoming real war between the same factions. The idea has reach the size of even being parodied on the Cracked Magazine website.
Whether the second American Civil War will be fought with political rhetoric or actual guns is unforeseeable, but Charlottesville started a snowball effect, followed by the poor handling of the situation by America’s least favorite President. Trump is one out of two US Presidents to have an approval rating of 35%. The other President to “achieve” this same approval rating was George W. Bush. For Bush it took him 1932 days to sink so low. Trump however, “excelled,” and did it in only 207 days. By comparison, Barack Obama’s lowest approval rating was 55%.
Trump’s low rating comes on the heels of his now famous lack of action, followed by statements made by him that were at best callous in nature. The polarization that existed before a man labeled a “lame duck President” widened, when he dodged the opportunity to do something great, and tell his people, that hate and violence is wrong, and murder is not acceptable. Trump’s infamous sitting on his hands pushing the slaying of Heather Heyer to new proportions.
The question is not “who will throw the first stone,” because Charlottesville is it, the frightening question is “will there be a second stone?” Will things escalate beyond, anti-fascist memes and Internet name-calling, as the division between Americans grows.
2017 will be a year marked by the names James Alex Fields and Heather Heyer, and depending on the gravitas of Charlottesville, they may be immortalized as the participants in a history-altering event.
With the adversarial relationship between conservatives and liberals reaching a fever pitch, is it any stretch of the imagination to look at the events in Charlottesville and think, “This is history repeating itself.” Only this time, the perpetrators are working for the worst of human causes; the President has advanced oppression, not freedom; and the fight to preserve human equality replaced with vulgarians lashing out in fear.
Ever if things deescalate, there is still a sad irony connecting the events at Charlottesville and Harpers Ferry. The violence at Charlottesville ignited over a statue of Robert E. Lee, who commanded the forces that captured John Brown.
Born on Long Island, Josh Darling had his first short story published at the age of 17, back in the days of zines. Struggling with learning disabilities, he dropped out of college and wandered across the US for years. He worked oddball jobs to make ends meet including short order cook, answering phones at the Home Shopping Network, and telemarketing for conmen. He currently resides in Florida, with the love of his life and their son.