James Solomon Russell vs. Harriet Tubman

Today two saintly souls, both born into slavery, face each other in a heartbreaking Saintly Sixteen battle. James Solomon Russell squares off against Harriet Tubman with a spot in the Elate Eight in the offing. The winner will face Herman of Alaska.

Yesterday Margaret of Castello (IS she related to celebrity blogger Megan Castellan?) defeated Eva Lee Matthews 69% to 31% to reach the Elate Eight.

Don't forget in all of these post-opening round matchups, you can always head to the Bracket tab to read write-ups from previous rounds. Now, perhaps, you have a photographic memory and perfect recall. But for the rest of us, everything is archived in one handy place, because an informed voter is the best kind of voter.

Time to vote!

James Solomon Russell

James Solomon Russell -- priest, church planter, college president, lived in the early-twentieth century in southcentral Virginia.

Why is this important? If you recall your history, you’ll recall that one of the largest rebellions of enslaved people happened in southcentral Virginia. Right before the Civil War, Nat Turner’s rebellion occurred in the county next door to where the Rev. Russell grew up and ministered. The rebellion, and the declaration of martial law in the aftermath, were a traumatic part of local history for Black Virginians.

Additionally, early on, during the slavery years, many plantation owners in Virginia strenuously resisted anyone evangelizing enslaved people on their plantations, worrying that baptism could become grounds for manumission. Virginia actually passed a law declaring that Christian baptism could not be so used in 1667, which opened the door for widespread evangelizing to enslaved people--mainly in the Great Awakening.

All this is to say that when James Solomon Russell arrived on the scene, he was not dealing with lots of folks who were inclined to leap into the arms of the established Episcopal Church (nor was the established church all that excited to open its arms) which makes what he did all the more remarkable.

James himself was one smart dude. His mother gave him the name Solomon, both because she wanted God’s wisdom for him, and she hoped early on he would be a minister. James grew up in a local church before becoming Episcopalian--the Zion Union Apostolic Church. (This church was one of several that formed immediately after the Civil War, because white parishes started kicking out their formerly-enslaved members, and Black people had to reorganize). At a conference of the ZUAC, James proposed that “No man ought to attempt to read in public who cannot read correctly, nor must one take text who cannot read, nor shall any attempt to preach more than one hour.” The ZUAC fell into infighting, and Russell went to the Episcopal Church partly out of frustration. He wrote, in his memoirs, that the exodus of Black folks from white churches was regrettable because, in his mind, while it was true that the church had failed its black members, if they just stayed put, eventually they would have run the whole Episcopal church just through sheer numbers.

Aside from founding a college and founding 37 churches, Russell also founded a black farmer’s conference in 1904--partly to help sharecroppers to stay out debt and to vote (a poll tax had started in 1902). He also was the first black person appointed to the Episcopal Board of Missions in 1923. He campaigned in 1933 to get all references to race removed from the diocesan canons, to allow all clergy full participation in the governance of the church.

Both North Carolina and Arkansas tried to appoint him their bishop suffragan to minister to their black populations, but he declined--saying both that his work at the college was too important, and that a bishop should be for all people--not just some.

-- Megan Castellan

Harriet Tubman

It is said that Tubman sang songs as signals on the Underground Rail Road. They were Go Down Moses, and, Bound For the Promised Land and Tubman said she changed the tempo of the songs to signify if it was safe for people to come out or not.

There are many quotes that are attributed to Tubman, all about determination and freedom. However, because she was illiterate, not many of her words were written down but most of the quotes attributed to her share her spirit.

Memorable quotes that were definitely attributed to Tubman include: I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

Memorable quotes that have been presumed fabricated but contain her spirit include: “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

A powerful testament to her life is a letter written by Frederick Douglass to her saying:

The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.

Oh that we could live our life in such a way.

-- Sandra Montes

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Harriet Tubman: Statue in Harlem, NYC


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117 comments on “James Solomon Russell vs. Harriet Tubman”

  1. I have known about Harriet Tubman my entire life. I live 34 miles away from her home in Auburn, NY. She is my hero! She is also a great beacon for what our country is going through now - Just keep on going!

  2. Hard for me because James Russell founded St. Paul´s College where I worked for two years and I am from VA and the segregated South. However, I had to go for Harriett because she risked her life to free others.

    1. Same here, Mary! I'm not far from Auburn, either. Intend to visit her museum and home once our keeping out of society is over. Harriet for the Golden Halo!!!


      1. Odell! I knew Mrs. Odell at William Smith College in Geneva where I am from. Are you related? I must ask, I knew her granddaughter, Susan.

        1. Hi, Emily. Gina Odell is my sister. I don't know of a relative who worked at William Smith College, but you never know. There's an Odell building in Phelps not far from Geneva. We haven't found a connection to our family. Of course, I had to vote for Harriet too and would have even without the local connection. What an amazing life.

  3. Oh, Harriet is already so far ahead of James. Does a come from behind ever happen with Lent Madness? Well, I still get to place my vote and it's for James. Farmers are getting a bit more respect these days as people are noticing how good it is to have Local food. All be well!

    1. In my experience, if the person who is ahead at the beginning of the day has 55% or more of the vote, the percentages rarely change all day. Sometimes when the vote is very close, the saint who is ahead can go back and forth and cause partisans white knuckles and upset stomachs until the final decision. We're not talking about the effect of cheating which can disrupt things for a while until the SEC tracks down the culprits and banishes them into the outer darkness (or somewhere).

  4. Both these brave people deserve to win, but I have to choose, so I will go with Harriet. Her courage in the face of so much hatred and prejudice, her energy for the long, long marches to freedom, her spirit to bolster the fears of her people all are marks of exceptionality. To add to that, she came in such a tiny package, ie was under five feet tall. She did not let her size stop her from such remarkable deeds. I am for Harriet all the way to the coveted golden halo. Harriet never wavered in her times or her work. May we take her life as an example in these trying times of coronavirus. Never fear, our God is near.

    1. Loved the movie Harriet. It didn’t make a point of her height. Now I’m even more impressed by the scene where she crosses the river. I’m trying to trust in God enough to keep going even when the water seems up to my neck

    2. This was difficult because both people of color made tremendous contributions to America! Harriet got my vote!

  5. It appears that James will not make the next level, but he got my vote. Thanks to Lent Madness for giving his information out, I did not know about him. In the past month, however, I have made a couple of pilgrimages to the church where his parents are buried, near Palmer Springs, Va. That church is quite run down and boarded up. James does have a historical marker on nearby US 1.

  6. Absurd and crazy to select one here. Both are worthy saints . Reverted to Excel and random numbers, and the Standard deviation stat to say that an even number gets Tugman, it was an odd number, so my vote was to Russell. Retlaw Paaj

  7. I know this only gets harder as the bracket narrows, but WOW! today was difficult for me. I had voted for James the first round and, while I did not vote for Ms. Tubman the first time, I anticipated and looked forward to being able to vote for her later on...

    When I got to Megan's line, " because white parishes started kicking out their formerly-enslaved members, and Black people had to reorganize" I literally had to stop and offer a prayer of confession and repentance for myself and my caucasian-European ancestors. Heart-breaking and so wrong.

    Yet reading both entries I suddenly realized I have a tendency to prejudice for the educated and against those who are not... and seeing what Harriet accomplished anyhow—and her incorporation of song—along with Mr. Douglass's words of high esteem moved me to cast my vote for her today.

  8. Hmmm. Planting churches or serving the cause of freedom? That makes it easy. I'm on board with Harriet Tubman!

  9. Such a hard choice. But I voted for Harriet. She risked her life to save others. I do truly admire Mr. Russell and think that he created a path that freedmen and women could also follow to a new and different kind of life that Harriet's work pointed to.

  10. Ah James, you didn't have a chance once they included the Frederick Douglas testament. Not that you aren't worthy, (church planting is important because often freedom fighters are born, nurtured and sent out from churches, never mind the churches that have collectively stood for and fought for freedom) but Harriet is "worthier" .

  11. At a time when the Court let men chase
    Down those innocents marked by their race:
    For her deeds, let’s induct her,
    That gallant conductor;
    In Elate she well merits a place.

    1. But it doesn’t rhyme! The supremes have dug up the obsolete adjective “elate,” which my dictionary calls “Old Poet.” and defines as “filled with elation,” to make a play on words with “elite.” They will stop at nothing in their relentless pursuit of corny humor.

    1. In the meantime, there's this stamp-your-own option: https://tubmanstamp.com

      (This is the original--as the saying goes, do not be fooled by imitators! I'm not in the least affiliated commercially; I just think this is a great idea.)

    2. Doubt the change to the $20 will happen during the present administration. I heard Andy Jackson is too well liked by certain people.

  12. I feel I must vote for Rev Russell. He, too, risked his life in a time of Jim Crow laws and the adage "don't let the sun set with you in our town." That he demanded that he should continue planting churches instead of giving in to the political machinations of church bureaucracy is telling of his love for the people and desire to serve God. Ha service "to the least of these", black farmers in the South, is telling of his commitment to justice.

    1. Thank you for clarifying this. We don't need any conspiracy theories going around about our precious Lent Madness! It would also be nice to forego inserting political comments.

    2. I totally agree. While first thoughts went to Harriet for her willingness to put her life on the line, I also realized that Rev. Russell was putting his life on the line just as much, but in a different way. And his influence, broad and longstanding, directly affected the lives even more people than Harriet's (Hollywood aside). This was a really tough choice!

      1. Indeed, Susan, this is one tough choice. The pairings are increasingly difficult as witness and courage and spiritual gifts and spiritual lives seem to shine increasingly brighter. However, in the spirit of Brother Lawrence, who speaks deeply to my heart, I have chosen Ms. Tubman.

  13. Goodness, what a choice! I voted for James since reconstruction was a dangerous period, and James set up institutions that would serve emancipated blacks for years to come!

  14. Both are wonderful examples of God's work in this world. I went with James because of the far reaching effect of his work and his calling

  15. James is falling victim to the Bracket. I hope he returns next year with a better seeding.

  16. "An informed voter is the best kind of voter." The subtweeting is reaching A+ levels here. Both of these figures are greatly worthy to be praised, but I went with the leader within the church structure, who dealt with institutionalized racism on a national scale. With Russell one confronts directly the way law in the US has systematically been used to degrade and injure citizens and non-citizens alike. Up until the 18th century in Europe, one could avoid the death penalty by proving he could read. But here's Virginia, sealing people into the death-in-life of slavery by making the law a tomb: even baptism cannot free people! Thus decreeth the court in Richmond. What a godless culture the US is. Idolatry is written into American law from the start. You SHALL worship property, and when your property flees dogs, torches, and whips, you shall force your neighbor to submit to your will to get your property back. God help a people whose inheritance includes Dred Scott and the Fugitive Slave Act. Very few blockbuster movies will be made of vestry meetings and general conventions. But getting race removed from diocesan canons is a godly act. And I cannot but be swayed by Russell's insistence on the importance of reading. An informed voter is one who can read; if one can read, one will not be swayed by the delusional rantings of an orange demagogue to go drink one's fishtank cleaner because it's chloroquine. And die. If baptism frees one to live, then we ought to be offering life to all, and the law, including church canons, is one way to make straight the way of the lord. Leaders matter. I voted for Russell.

    1. Beautifully said, as usual. I do wish what you said about literacy were so; but the spread of falsehoods via Twitter et al. shows that it’s just another tool to be used for good or ill, with enormous potential for either, alas, alas.

        1. St. Celia, your postings indicate such anger and, yes, even sadness. I’d feel better if you could talk with someone who could give you some hope.

          Regarding Lent Madness, today’s matchup is particularly impossible. Both contenders were liable to be murdered. Both were intensely reviled by some and praised by others.Both were faithful followers of Jesus. It seems to me that Fr. James Soloman Russell helped right the seriously listing Episcopal ship.
          All children are All God’s children.
          I voted for James.

    2. If we look to the saints to inspire us to a way of life, I gravitate toward those I both admire AND think model a way I in my weakness and uncertainty might be able to accomplish. Sometimes the saints' lives are so extraordinary I cannot imagine myself following their path. James invites me to walk beside him.

      1. May I echo your sentiments. We Americans seem inclined or programmed to prefer big-screen heroes.

    3. Hear! Hear! Well said, as usual, St. Celia! And Rebecca - well thought!

      I welcome the dawning recognition of our nation's great sin of slavery and the hard, deep work we must do to accept and repair this evil. The wisdom teachers tell us that on our personal journeys we will be confronted with that we need to work with again and again, until we finally take it on.

      here one place to start our journey...

      Mooncalf eh? so apt, on many levels.

  17. Funny that so many really hard choices are producing lopsided votes. From the comments it seems that people are really struggling with their choices but at the end of the day (sometimes literally — a couple of times I’ve voted between 7 and 8 the next morning) are tending toward the same contestant.

    This morning our choice is between two heroes, one risking her life to free others and the other quietly going about the business of educating others and spreading the Gospel. I had to vote for Harriet, but with regret for James, of whom I had never heard and no less a hero for that.

    1. The ratio gets established very early, within about an hour, no more than two hours, and then it stays fixed throughout the 24 hours. I once thought "we" here on this fragile WordPress thread were "the voters," but we seem simply to be a ruminative minority. I hadn't realized there was also Facebook voting, and I suspect the ratio is set early by the Facebook "masses" (a few thousand people) and I do not know what their commentary is like, but it may well be that this little band constitutes a subset of outliers. I enjoy our discussions, though it seems we may not be "influencers" in the larger scheme of Lent Madness.

      1. Are you saying that there’s a separate, and to us invisible, discussion thread going on on Facebook? I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

        1. Davis Dassori, St. Celia., you can't vote on the facebook page, Its a lovely community page with links to this spot for voting.

          1. Thank you for the information. I thought I had wandered out there once and seen stray comments, and inferred that a separate experience was taking place. Clearly I was not "reading" carefully. I am glad to be better informed.

      2. Interesting. I’ve checked in on FB a few times, but found the conversation much more interesting. I imagine the popularity of FB is due to the comparative ease with which you can chime in—“like” buttons and no need to fill out a form with every comment.

  18. I have to say, what all James Solomon Russell did in the face of African-American disenfranchisement in the United States, the aftermath of which is generally known as 'Jim Crow,' is mightily impressive. The writer should probably have stressed that more in her context (also, was the name of the school St. Paul's College?). Founding a college and keeping it going, plus helping black farmers at that time was not for the faint of heart. Harriet Tubman will go on to the Elate 8, but my vote is for JSR.

  19. Voting for Harriet today. We must keep going, as she said. Or as my German professor said, keep on keeping on. Right now, this means staying home, for the protection of all.