Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Man with a Branded Hand!





John Bangert outside the old Abolitionist Hall on the corner of Bank and Miles streets. (Staff photo by Merrily Lunsford)


Man with a branded hand

By Douglas Karlson dkarlson@cnc.com
Wednesday, March 15, 2006


John Bangert had lived in Harwich for 35 years and never heard of Jonathan Walker. But since launching No Place For Hate in Harwich, a group dedicated to fighting prejudice, Bangert has become fascinated by the famous Harwich abolitionist, so much so he’s throwing Walker a birthday party of sorts (his 207th). The whole town’s invited.
Better known as the man with the branded hand, Walker is, to Bangert, a kindred spirit and source of inspiration. If Walker were alive today, he’d probably be on the No Place for Hate committee, said Bangert.

Walker was a whaling captain who was born in East Harwich and lived in New Bedford.
He was arrested in Florida for attempting to smuggle slaves to freedom. As a punishment, his hand was branded with the letters "S.S." for slave stealer. Walker re-interpreted the initials to stand for "slave savior." He became an instant celebrity among abolitionists.
According to Bangert, Walker’s message of equality and brotherhood still resonates today. "It’s a teachable moment," he explained.
No Place for Hate will celebrate the anniversary of Walker’s birth with a read-a-thon on Wednesday, March 22 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at Brooks Free Library. The event will be a time of reflection, and there will be readings from Captain Walker’s writings, as well as a reading a John Whittier poem about Walker. Cake will be served.
Also, selections will be read from Alvin Oickle’s biography, "Jonathan Walker: The Man with the Branded Hand," and Elmer Kopelmann’s "Branded Hand: The Struggles of an Abolitionist."
Following Walker’s example, at the read-a-thon, No Place for Hate is inviting Harwich residents to use non-toxic ink to "brand" their own hands with the initials of the human rights issue most important to them.


Chuck Micciche is considering "N.T." for "no torture. Bangert has decided on "N.D." or "non-denomenational." It’s a message that ties in with his goal to break down barriers by visiting every house of worship on Cape Cod, an undertaking he estimates will take two years Harwich Youth Counselor Shiela House, thinks the event is a good idea. She’s concerned that students are becoming increasingly intolerant of one another. At the same time, she said many of her students recognize and are frustrated by the problem. They want to do something about it, she said.
Having time off from their busy school schedules to associate with one another and reflect in ideas is important, said House, who plans to mark her hand "T.H.F." for "teenagers have feelings." The Walker event, she said, is an ideal opportunity to create a moment of dialogue and awareness.

Over the past several months, Bangert has been busy researching the life of Walker. The more he’s learned, the more interested he has become. His exploration has also led to an interest in the abolitionist movement in Harwich.
Bangert has been delving into the underground railway, and was excited to learn about that the apartment house on the corner of Bank and Miles Street was once a meeting place for abolitionists, and was known as Unity Hall or Abolitionist Hall.

"Racism and abolitionism was the big issue" is Harwich in the mid 19th century, he explained. Harwich, he said, has a tradition of challenging hate and injustice.
Not that it was easy. Abolitionists were not accepted in some churches, said Micciche. He theorized that may be the reason for Abolitionst Hall. Church congregations, he said, were divided on the issue, so some ministers avoided the topic altogether. Bangert said he hopes to sponsor a tour of Harwich’s underground railway when his research is completed. If anyone has information about Harwich’s Underground Railway, they can contact No Place for Hate at 508-432-9256.

If you go...
What: Capt. Jonathan Walker’s 207 birthday
When: Wednesday, March 22, 3 - 4:30 p.m.
Where: Brooks Free Library
Cake will be served.
Also, the Harwich Junior Theatre will dedicate a performance of Thornton Wilder’s "Our Town" to "No Place for Hate Night," Saturday, March 18th.
A special discount price of $12 is available with the code "NPFH"

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