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HFNPS kicks off 75th anniversary with ‘Black Voices from Harpers Ferry’

By Staff | Feb 14, 2019

HARPERS FERRY — To begin the observance of their 75th anniversary this year, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park began its year-long celebration by welcoming back one of their own, Guinevere Roper, to speak about Harpers Ferry’s history. Roper spent more than 40 years as a park ranger and was instrumental in the provision of much of the history of Storer College, through displays at the national park.

During the afternoon, Roper gave a presentation entitled ‘Black Voices from Harpers Ferry’ to a room packed with about 75 people, who came to hear about her efforts to preserve the African American history of the town.

According to Ranger Creighton Waters, Sunday’s program was an appropriate start to the park’s anniversary celebration.

“Black history is a major theme in Harpers Ferry,” Waters said. “What better time than Black History Month to start with this program.”

In her introduction of Roper, Waters said Roper came to work at the park in the 1970s, and was instrumental in conducting research and preserving a significant portion of the Harpers Ferry story.

Roper described some of her work at HFNPS, which led to Storer College history becoming a focal point at the Harpers Ferry Park.

“When I got here, I wondered where the history of Storer College was,” Roper said, in response to a question of how it was when she started in the 1970s. She said she wasn’t sure why the African American story was not being told.

“And I said, ‘we’re gonna have to do something about that,'” she laughed.

And do something, she did. She was tasked at that time to collect information on the college and was instrumental in establishing the first display on Storer College at the park, which opened in 1983.

“Storer College offered an opportunity to former slaves to obtain an education they had long been denied,” Roper said about the college, which opened in 1867 at the end of the Civil War.

The “normal school” opened under the leadership of its first president, Rev. Nathan Cook Brackett, with the first class consisting of 19 students. Financial assistance came from John Storer, who committed $10,000, with the condition that the school be open to all students.

The school’s second president, Roper said, was Henry T. McDonald, who served in the role for 45 years.

In 1921, Storer earned its designation as a junior college and in 1938 as a four-year college.

Roper, in recording the history of the college for the National Park, spent many hours interviewing alumni of the school, including her father and aunt, who were both Storer College alumni.

“My aunt Guinevere was captain of the girl’s basketball team,” Roper said, mentioning the college didn’t have a gymnasium, but played in an old barn that was on the college grounds. “They didn’t have a gym, but my aunt scored 40 points in a game in that old barn.”

According to Roper, the college closed in in 1956, following the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education case, which struck down segregation.

“Brown vs. the Board of Education gave Storer students the opportunity to go anywhere,” Roper said. “The school closed its doors after an 88-year run as a beacon of light.”

Although the college has been closed for over 60 years, through Roper’s efforts, its story lives on.

“It’s been a joy to work and meet the alumni and to do this for Harpers Ferry,” Roper said.