Martha Swan to NY State: Save the John Brown Farm from Budget Cuts!
Founder of John Brown Lives! Holds Press Conference
Sunday, February 28, 2010
John Brown Farm, Lake Placid
Good afternoon. I am Martha Swan, director of the freedom education project, John Brown Lives!, and a teacher and social justice activist.
We are here today at the foot of John Brown’s grave to urge New York State to keep the John Brown Farm State Historic Site open, maintained and its modest budget fully-funded so as to provide the public with docents who can help interpret this important site.
Many New Yorkers, I dare say most, do not associate abolitionist John Brown with New York State or the Adirondacks. Yet he so loved it here, on this land, that in his last jailhouse letter to his wife Mary, Brown expressed his wish that she come after Virginia “applied its finishing stroke” to gather up his and their beloved sons bones and bring them home to North Elba for burial in the shadow of the big rock where he loved to sit and pray while looking out over the mountains.
Brown was first drawn to the Adirondacks by Gerrit Smith’s land grant plan to empower and enfranchise Black New Yorkers. Even when away, he constantly worried and inquired about Mary and the children’s well-being, the crops and the animals, how his family and their black friends and neighbors were getting on. And he was drawn back to this homestead as his final resting place. Buried alongside him are 11 Harpers Ferry Raiders, black men and white, including 2 sons and a son-in-law.
The lives that were lived here and the remains that lie buried under the snow make this hallowed ground. As on the day of Brown’s internment in December 1859, people come to this site from the world over to honor them all and dwell in the peacefulness of this place.
What we tell ourselves about John Brow and what we—and the State of New York—do with the John Brown State Historic Site today—provides a measure of our love and understanding of the true cost of liberty. It is a measure of our courage to face the failings and faultlines of our history. It is a measure of our indebtedness to those visionaries before us who protected this Site and established this Shrine.
New York State has owned and continuously operated the John Brown Farm since 1896. It is a measure of our collective will and imagination today to keep the Farm open and its continued protection assured as a New York State Historic Site.