Poet and playwright Robert Earl Price says he was disheartened to learn that few people in Chestertown knew about the man for whom their elementary school was dedicated: Henry Highland Garnet.
Six years ago, Price and Leslie Prince Raimond conceived of the idea of creating a video tribute of Highland’s life and how he participated on the world stage as a staunch promotor of self-emancipation by encouraging a slave rebellion against plantation owners of the South.
The small-budget video includes a dozen or more vignettes of Kent County residents, Black and white, relating highlights of Garnet’s life. The production was funded by the Kent County Arts Council and Sumner Hall and has recently resurfaced from Kent Cultural Alliance archives.
Born a slave in 1815 in Chesterville, Kent County—just west of Millington— Garnet’s life story was often eclipsed by Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman and their famous escapes from Eastern Shore’s slave owners and subsequent ascension as pioneers of the struggle for emancipation.
Garnet made his own escape to New York City with family members in 1825 an went on the become one of the most outspoken abolitionists of his time.
As a Presbyterian minister, Garnet gave one of his fiercest objections to slavery at the National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York in 1843:
“It is in your power so to torment the God-cursed slaveholders that they will be glad to let you go free. If the scale was turned, and black men were the masters and white men the slaves, every destructive agent and element would be employed to lay the oppressor low. Danger and death would hang over their heads day and night. Yes, the tyrants would meet with plagues more terrible than those of Pharaoh.”
In 1865, Garnet became the first black person to deliver a sermon in the House of Representatives.
Here, Robert Earl Price talks about the video project and how Garnet’s life and impassioned beliefs stirred the nation as it approached the brink of the Civil War.
This video is approximately six minutes in length.