"We Are Pushing Forward to a Larger Freedom"

Harper's Ferry Monument to "Loyal Negroes"

In 1931, eight years after the failed attempt to erect a national “mammy” monument, the Afro-American published a series of articles covering the successful installation of a “loyal Negro” monument at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The United Daughters of the Confederacy proposed the monument as a way to memorialize the Black slaves who did not join John Brown’s rebellion at Harper’s Ferry.[1] It was specifically dedicated to the memory of Heyward Shepherd, a Black freeman who worked at the railway where the rebellion took place. He was killed in the conflict and the inscription on the monument, written by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, described him as “the first victim of this attempted insurrection.”

Storer College, a historically Black institution located in Harper’s Ferry, already had a memorial to Brown in position near the raid site. The “loyal Negro” monument was erected within sight of this memorial.[2]

The Afro-American reported that Rev. George Freeman Bragg, Jr., a Black minister well known for his activism against racial discrimination, provided the benediction at the UDC’s dedication ceremony. The paper reported on the surprise some felt in reaction to Rev. Bragg’s involvement in “such a service.”[3] One prominent citizen, Mrs. S. H. Hill, commented “[Rev. Bragg] has done so much to bring the best that colored people have done to light. Most of the better thinking people of Harpers Ferry look upon the [monument dedication] with disgust.”[4] The paper stated that the surprise grew when it was announced that Henry T. McDonald, the white president of Storer College, would also participate.

At the ceremony, Pearl Tatten, a Black woman and the choir director at Storer College, spoke out against the monument. As reported in the Afro-American, after the president of the UDC, Mrs. Leopold Bashinsky, finished her speech about the “good Colored people of the South… and of her old black Mammy,” the Storer choir was to give a performance. But before they began, Tatten told the assembled crowd:

I am the daughter of a Connecticut volunteer, who wore the blue, who fought for the freedom of my people, for which John Brown struck the first blow. Today we are looking forward to the future, forgetting those things of the past. We are pushing forward to a larger freedom, not in the spirit of the black mammy but in the spirit of new freedom and rising youth.

While it was not reported if anyone confronted Tatten face-to-face after her impromptu speech, the Afro-American reprinted a note sent to her at the end of the ceremony by a member of the UDC: “I wonder at your temerity. Your untimely remarks were out of place, in poor spirit, and most discourteous. Such ignorance is colossal.”[5] Storer students shared Tatten’s sentiment and many refused to attend the dedication.[6]

As of today, both the John Brown monument and the Heyward Shepherd monument remain standing. The Shepherd monument was removed from public display in 1976, but then re-erected in the same location in 1980. After the 1980 rebuilding, it remained covered with plywood for a decade and a half while the city wrestled with how best to navigate the controversy surrounding it.[7] However, the UDC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans successfully lobbied for it to be uncovered. It has remained visible since 1995.[8]

Olivia Haynie


Afro-American (Baltimore, MD). “Confederates to Dedicate ‘Uncle Tom’ Monument.” Oct 10, 1931.

Afro-American (Baltimore, MD). “Speeches Made at Dedication of Uncle Tom-Pappy Monument at Harpers Ferry.” Oct 17, 1931.

Afro-American (Baltimore, MD). “Yankee Woman Steals Show.” Oct 17, 1931.

Holloway, Kali. “The Heyward Shepherd monument: An overt ode to slavery.” salon.com, Oct 19, 2018, https://www.salon.com/2018/10/19/the-heyward-shepherd-monument-an-overt-ode-to-slavery_partner/.

Wikipedia “Heyward Shepherd monument.” Accessed June 28, 2023 Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heyward_Shepherd_monument.

  1. Holloway, “The Heyward Shepherd monument: An overt ode to slavery,” salon.com. ↩︎

  2. Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), “Confederates to Dedicate ‘Uncle Tom’ Monument.” ↩︎

  3. Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), “Confederates to Dedicate ‘Uncle Tom’ Monument.” ↩︎

  4. Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), "Speeches Made at Dedication of Uncle Tom-Pappy Monument at Harpers Ferry. ↩︎

  5. Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), “Yankee Woman Steals Show.” ↩︎

  6. Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), "Speeches Made at Dedication of Uncle Tom-Pappy Monument at Harpers Ferry. ↩︎

  7. Wikipedia Heyward Shepherd monument. ↩︎

  8. Holloway, “The Heyward Shepherd monument: An overt ode to slavery.” salon.com. ↩︎