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

James Solomon Russell vs. Harriet Tubman

  • Harriet Tubman (75%, 5,059 Votes)
  • James Solomon Russell (25%, 1,673 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,732

Loading ... Loading ...

Harriet Tubman: Statue in Harlem, NYC


* indicates required

Recent Posts



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

  1. It seems almost tragic to have to choose between two high-achieving Black Americans like this! Couldn't the bracket have been set up to make this less likely? Coronavirus is upsetting enough! Here I've turned to Lent Madness for a dose of holy fun as I sit in the midst of the huge red blob on the Coronavirus map that is the NY area, and I encounter more stress!

    1. Today is the Annunciation. Today's reflection in the Forward Day by Day, written by the Rev. Helen van Koevering, stresses names, in particular "emmanuel": "a redeeming presence in the midst of disaster." May you receive a visitation of calm in the midst of the huge red blob. May it pass over you and you be well.

      1. Thank you, St. Celia! Just now read your comment, and I feel better. Still healtjy, thank God! May you be blessed, today and every day.

  2. James is very worthy. I found his insistence on literacy and succinctness compelling, and his obstacles to inclusion as well. But—Harriet.

  3. I too would like to vote for both--for James's emphasis of knowledge and spirit, and for Harriet's just plain courage! But as the outcome is already decided, it matters not how I vote, only that I affirm the wisdom in the comments of this community, and highlight the good things I see in our contenders. Love to you all!

  4. Both of these heroes were worthy to win the day—I wish they had not been put up against one another. I voted for Harriet because of her undeniable courage in working the Underground Railroad. However, the Bishop demonstrated amazing courage through out his life.

  5. Not a difficult vote today for us here in Canada! You should all take a trip to Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada across from Ohio, & Michigan USA where the underground railway ended up in Amherstburg . The black people then dispersed into our Country Canada to be FREE!

  6. I haven 't read the comment stream (no time in this busy time), so others may have gotten there first, but it is utterly wrong of the SEC to have constructed a bracket that pits these two great African-American saints against each other in just the second round, especially as there are so few people of color in the bracket to begin with. I get that the latter problem reflects, in part, the disportionately European bias of our calendar, still extant despite abortive attempts at recent General Conventions to rectify it. But still. The SEC doesnt have to deal with the quirks of the GC legislative process (which Scott, at least, knows well). They are the SUPREME Executive Committe, and could have made a better choice than this. In light of the conundrum they have presented, I am abstaining from voting today. I pledge to vote for the winner of this contest all the way to the end -- unless her or she comes up against my parish's co-patron, Clare of Assisi, my hope for the Golden Halo

    1. I don't think he will be eligible right away next year. But I agree I would like to see him in a future bracket.

    2. But the SEC didn’t put these two against each other. It is the result of earlier voting. But I guess you won’t read this comment....

      1. Actually, I suspect they did put these two against each other. Just the sort of LM craziness they favor and probably cackle about to each other before filming Monday Madness.

        1. The brackets used to be random, and people complained that they were having to choose between ancient figures known only through lore and modern people with wikipedia bios. I think the bracket czars have labored to make the early voting a bit more rationalized. However, I will acknowledge that the Barney versus Elmo round was clearly rigged!

        2. Even though my political leanings seem to go along with St. Celia's, I agree with Mary Beth. Let's try to counter our current polarities and be one people. And I voted for James, too, partly because this is what he worked for in the church. But mainly because I was pretty sure Harriet would win and I wanted to show him some support!

        3. I agree with you, Kathy. I agree that they probably cackle when they give us a terrible choice. Remember when they put the Wesley brothers against each other? And the two Augustines? But it is Lent Madness, after all. It's maddening, but it's part of the fun.

      2. Well, they put them against each other in the sense that if both won in the first round, this would happen. I know they like to give us hard choices, and that's fine. But there is something about this one that just doesn't sit right with me.

  7. I'm favoring Harriet Tubman for the Golden Halo this year, although it will break my heart if I have to vote against Brother Lawrence in a few weeks. Oh well. The SEC is always superb every year in selecting 32 saints, each one of which is "worthy" of the Golden Halo. Thanks, guys. I love Lent Madness.

  8. The first truly tough contest of Lent Madness this season. Tubman is a secular saint if ever there was one, and she'll easily win without my vote. So, I'm going with the bishop I never heard of, who stayed with the church that had failed its black members and tried to make it better. Also, as a volunteer at a local organic farm, I admire his support for farmers.

  9. Such a difficult choice. Someone who's strength and courage have become legend (Harriet) and a worker within the body whose efforts have remained largely unknown and unheralded. Having written that I realize that I'm going to vote for James Solomon Russell primarily because that description of him speaks to so many clergy who have toiled faithfully and unheralded to bring hope and compassion and God's love to where they have served. I'm pretty sure that Harriet will win this today, but thank you to the SEC for reminding me through James of that cloud of witnesses.

  10. I would have split my vote. Half for Harriet & half for James. I realize that isn't a solution. I'm just explaing why I am supporting the probable loser.

  11. I am madly in love with the Madness and go crazy with nothing to read or vote on on the weekends. I do have a question. This round you have named 'Elate' 8. Elate means: to make happy, normally used in a sentence such as: I am elated (thrilled). I wonder if you really mean 'Elite 8'. Elite meaning: special group that stands out from others. Just wonder. and it doesn't spoil my elation with the holy contest.

    1. “Elite Eight” is the level in March Madness (“the other Madness”), so we want to be distinct from that. “Elate” can also mean “rapturous” or “ecstatic,” both of which religious connotations.

  12. This is too difficult. Harriet was my pick all the way to the end, but I admit, I'd never heard of Solomon. Helping sharecroppers get out of debt and organizing to vote no doubt had long lasting effects on many families. But I also have never read Frederick Douglass' letter. Sometimes we see history in a vacuum, not realizing that characters interacted with each other during the same period. I JUST learned this year that MLK and Anne Frank were born the same year.

  13. I voted for Harriet. She was amazing. Frankly I think she is going to end up with the Golden Halo. We know so much about her because of the movie and all the subsequent stories about her. Would that I had just a portion of her faith and courage to do what is right, even under the threat of death.

  14. Both so worthy of a golden halo, but simply because Harriet Tubman is a shoe-in to win I cast my vote for James Solomon Russell.

  15. Until Harriet gets her Golden Halo, I can not vote for anyone else, no matter how worthy .

  16. I'm a huge admirer of Harriet Tubman, but remember that James Solomon Russell brought freedom, too, as education is another road to freedom. Ignorance is a kind of slavery.

  17. It's Harriet all the way! A general coment: Some of these match ups seem slanted toward a particular candidate. We'll have one entry seems way less accomplished (however, no less important) to a more celebrated entry. Just sayin'...

  18. Wise Solomon for his words on lectors and length of sermons. They are certainly words to read, mark definitely take to heart and practice.

  19. Harriet Tubman not only engaged in writing and speaking on important issues, she but her life on the line.

  20. I voted for Harriet because I see her mission reflected in the work of those who reach out today to help people fleeing war, persecution, or the effects of climate change. I haven't seen a movie about her, but she has long been one of my heroes.

  21. How ironic that today's two were serving the Lord and saving the country by being "out there" and today we are trying to save the country (and ourselves) by staying "in there."
    I agree with those who wish they could have voted for both. If we end up with Harriet vs. Brother Lawrence I don't know what I'll do--cry probably. And I agree also agree with those who want to keep personal politics out of it. Although, in honor of my Cherokee great grandmother, I love the guy who offered the rubber stamp to deface Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Isn't that illegal?

    1. Thank you for crystallizing the way I've been intuitively voting! Both admire and can imitate. I've voted for James.

  22. Who has heard about the educator and organizer and ordained minister James Solomon Russell before this contest? Not I, and I live in Virginia. It seems we often prefer the heroic frontline fighter to the patient backroom institution builder. I wonder why? Makes a better movie?

  23. Thanks, SEC, for inspiring conversation. One way or another, Harriet and James would have met or James would have lost to someone else. I see Harriet looking ahead to her match with my dear St. Herman and I tremble, tremble. I am moved by Harriet achieving so much without the ability to write down her own words. Yet Frederick Douglas knew enough about her to be humbled by her. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn so much about James, but I cast my vote for Harriet.

  24. "Heartbreaking" is right. This was another tough decision. I voted for Harriet Tubman because of Justice Douglass' beautiful tribute, particularly that she worked in private and in darkness, her reward being, "God bless you" from the people she led to freedom.

  25. This is a difficult one for me because it pits an obviously heroic person against a modest person who saw a need and methodically worked to fill it - and both served the same population. Each achieved a great deal. But I’ve decided to vote for James and all the ripples into the future he created by educating all those people.

  26. This was extremely difficult today. I have known about Harriet Tubman my entire life and live less than an hour from Uncle Tom's Cabin. I have always admired her and her spirit. Her work was immeasurable, but I can't help but feel the heartstrings tug for James. I never knew about him until a few years ago, and I grew up in the Episcopal Church! His work was also immeasurable to benefit the people, but what I really admire about him was his ability to pass on grasping the almighty power to continue to serve the people.

  27. Beautiful write-up on HT. I remember doing a report on her in elementary school. However I feel rather fiercely political today so voted JSR. He was formerly unknown to me. Thanks MC for the introduction. (Institutional tidying - God bless people willing to take that on.)

    Both/and, of course, as approaches to Christian ministry.