|Defaced: The John Brown Statue in Quindaro, Kansas City, Kan.|
(photo by Keith Myers, Kansas City Star)
The Black Men Behind the Statue
According to newspaper reportage at the time, the plan for the Quindaro statue was announced in 1909, the fifty-year anniversary of Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry and subsequent execution in Virginia. The statue was to "be erected upon the campus of Quindaro University by the negroes of Kansas," although the name of the school actually was Western University, the first black university west of the Mississippi. One of the leading proponents of the statue project was W. W. Fisher (1865-1955?), who served both as the clerk of the First African Methodist Episcopal [AME] Church of Kansas City, Kan., and as the clerk of the Quindaro Post Office, which was relocated to the campus of Western University in 1909.2
Bishop Abraham Grant
|Bishop W. T. Vernon, ca. 1920|
Kansas City Sun
From Conception to Unveiling
When the project was first conceptualized, Bishop Grant "urged that it be built with money contributed by the colored race," apparently because "[t]he memory of John Brown" was "held sacred by the older colored people of Kansas." These sentiments were taken up by the others promoting the project.5 W. W. Fisher thus told a reporter from the Topeka Daily Capital:
Not a penny towards this fund will be received from white people. The negroes want to pay for it out of their own pockets. They want to show their lasting love for the man who started the movement that resulted in making them a free people, and decided that the best way to do it was to erect a monument on the campus of their own university."6When it was completed, the significance of the event was revealed by the make up of the audience that turned out to witness the unveiling. On June 9, 2011, the grounds of the Western University were filled for the unveiling. On hand were the sitting governor and assistant governor of the state, as well as a former governor and other "leading personages." However, there were ten times as many blacks present as whites, the African American presence reportedly having reached three thousand. As the Oskaloosa Independent put it: "The statue is the first ever erected to the memory of the man of Harper's Ferry and every cent that went into it was contributed by grateful negroes of Kansas."7
Inspiration and Memory
I have not sufficiently researched the subject to discern the genesis of the idea for the Quindaro statue. Clearly, it was the brainchild of black leaders in Kansas, although the question remains as to what sparked or prompted the idea in the first place. One suggestion that might be considered is that certain leading black men and women in Kansas had become aware of the newly published biography of John Brown by W.E.B. DuBois. Indeed, DuBois' John Brown was first published in September 1909, so it may be that the excitement and interest that was stirred up in the black community by the DuBois book triggered reignited Kansas enthusiasm for the Old Man. Of course, it is possible, that Grant, Vernon, and others were simply mindful of the fiftieth anniversary of the Harper's Ferry raid that fall of 1909, and that the statue was their way of paying tribute, especially in deference to the older black population that remembered Brown with affection. However, it is quite possible that the DuBois book was the catalyst for the apparent fervor that drew the money and attention to support the statue project in Kansas.
It is unfortunate that one or more low-life racists would think themselves clever in desecrating the 107-year-old Quindaro John Brown statue. It is possible that some miscreant defaced it in reaction to the recent pulling down of Confederate statues, although it seems just as likely that the criminal who defaced the statue was simply acting out of a sense of self-justification and disdain.
Regardless, the vile act of defacing the Quindaro statue certainly suggests the perpetrator's sense of history too, however warped and perverted. The defacing of the statue proves that there is a deep and enduring bond between the legacy of John Brown and the freedom struggle. As such, he is as hated by the enemies of black people as he is revered and appreciated by their friends and allies. That black people no longer celebrate Brown is not a great surprise either. Progress has been made over 150+ years; black men and women of great power and accomplishment have arisen as leaders--and some have fallen as martyrs. It has naturally become more important that these heroes have been honored by succeeding generations instead of the 19th century figure of a white "monomaniac." Indeed, I would argue that it is much more important today that whites celebrate John Brown, if only that he represents a positive figure whose life and actions can impact whites, perhaps even inspire them to oppose racism and strike at the root of prejudice in their own communities.
After all, the Old Man is not a marginal figure in the ongoing story of the struggle for justice. As Larry Lawrence says, John Brown is still quite a contemporary figure. That he still bothers and irritates the advocates of white racism should not only comfort us, but also prove that "his soul goes marching on."