Monday, May 15, 2006
C.O.R.E. Honors John Brown
May 9, 2006
Ms Corrine Innis, Publicist
Congress of Racial Equality -- C.O.R.E.
817 Broadway, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003
Dear Ms Innis:
As a scholar of the life and letters of John Brown the abolitionist, I am writing to thank you for remembering him and his efforts on behalf of the anti-slavery cause. . . . As you know, in the 19th century, African Americans often remembered Brown by doing what the leadership of C.O.R.E. is doing today in laying a wreathe on his grave in Lake Placid, New York. Perhaps with the passing of years and the rise of many notable black leaders it is only natural and progressive that the focus of the black community has largely moved beyond Brown to their own freedom fighters and leaders.
Yet John Brown occupies a unique position, being much more a part of the black community than perhaps any other "white" man in the history of this nation. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to separate him from the bosom of black history and the black struggle against slavery in particular. As Brown said in his final statement to the Virginia court that sentenced him to death in November 1859, he and his sons had all willingly "mingled their blood" with the oppressed African in the United States. For centuries, white slave masters had "mingled their blood" with blacks only through rape. John Brown was thus the personal and complete antithesis to such racist criminality, for he lived with the intention of union with the oppressed in life and in death if necessary. This devotion was ultimately realized on a southern gallows.
John Brown remains a point of controversy in this nation today because many people remain unwilling to admit the gross injustice and systemic criminality that sustained black chattel slavery, and the extent to which the oppression of African people has enriched this nation and perverted the God-given order of human equality. He is defamed as a lunatic, dysfunctional brigand, and now "terrorist" by academics, journalists, and television producers because he threatens the fiction and duplicity that is still embraced as "American history" by far too many people in this nation, particularly people in positions of influence.
It is highly instructive that the people of Haiti named a thoroughfare after John Brown in the capital city of Port Au Prince, while this nation would rather glorify slaveholding presidents and tolerate the traitorous flag of the Confederacy. No single individual in the record of this nation is so suspect and despised as Brown, not even the official traitors of record like Benedict Arnold, or the romanticized, glorified traitors like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, who used all their might and ability to tear this nation apart and defend the rights of slave holders over the oppressed.
John Brown was a Christian man, a man devoted to family and community, and a patriot in the biblical sense of the word--one who loves his country enough to stand against it when it is wrong, and to give his life in the hope that it might be otherwise spared from the divine judgment that looms overhead. To be sure, he was hardly a porcelain saint, and there is room for criticism in the appreciative work of historians. But in the commerce of human rights and justice, Brown was an even greater figure--pound for pound--than even Abraham Lincoln, whom history has inaccurately crowned as the "great emancipator." Recall the words of Frederick Douglass in 1876, who acknowledged that his friend Lincoln "shared the prejudices of his white fellow countrymen against the negro," and that the 16th President "was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model." Lincoln finally advanced the cause of the anti-slavery movement and consciously employed John Brown's methods of arming black men. But his glory is derivative of Brown, just as the moon shines with the reflected light of the sun. With 2009 coming, the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, this nation will zealously rehearse the legend of Lincoln's humanitarian greatness even as it eschews and dismisses John Brown.
Perhaps someday the people of the United States will have sufficiently matured in their collective understanding of humanity and human rights to appreciate John Brown. For it is not simply that his "soul goes marching on," but that his soul goes marching in advance of most of our countrymen's understanding. When southerners cried out for secession and slavery, and northerners cried out for compromise and "whites-first" policies, John Brown cried out for freedom and justice for all. Thus, we who celebrate freedom and human equality will proudly celebrate Brown's life and legacy, and continue to express our warm gratitude to those like C.O.R.E., who remember his life and render a worthy tribute.
Yours in truth,
Rev. Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Ph.D.