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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Legends & Lies," and Some Errors Too


Last evening, the first installment of season three of “Legends & Lies”premiered on the Fox News Channel.  According to Fox News Insider: “The 12-episode miniseries, hosted by Brian Kilmeade, vividly recounts America’s epic struggle over slavery and freedom through the stories of the war’s greatest heroes and villains, including Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, John Wilkes Booth and Frederick Douglass.” 

Overall, “Legends & Lies” (heretofore, L/L) has much to commend it.  For the most part, its dramatic representations of history are nicely done, and despite some notable errors, the guiding narrative scripted for Kilmeade leans toward fairness, and in some places is quite satisfying in comparison to the documentaries on Brown that have preceded over the past twenty years.  Indeed, one gets the impression from the full run of this episode that those who produced it actually recognize that antislavery violence may be justified, particularly given by the expansive evil that was “the crime of slavery.”   This is not something that has ever been stated in documentaries on PBS or The History Channel.


Despite the criticisms that follow, L/L's John Brown episode did not leave me unsettled or annoyed on the whole.  To be sure, the actor who was cast as John Brown was too young and too stout, and really did not look anything like the abolitionist.  In contrast, the producers of L/L did a much better job of casting for Lincoln, so this was a visual disappointment.   On the other hand, there were small details that impressed me.   At the time of the Harper’s Ferry raid, Brown is shown wearing some kind of fur hat, and although he looks more like Daniel Boone than John Brown, at least the producers of L/L did their homework and tried: at Harper's Ferry, Brown was described as having worn an otter skin cap.    In the execution scene, a woman wearing a bonnet is seen watching Brown’s on the gallows, although the narrator points out that no civilians were present.  As far as the visuals go, this L/L episode really merits commendation.  I was particularly impressed by the moving panorama of antebellum New York City portrayed just before Abraham Lincoln is pictured speaking at the Cooper Union.  Having appreciated some aspects of L/L, a good many things came up that merit closer consideration if not criticism.

Juxtapositions: Pottawatomie, a Boyhood Memory, and the Sumner Caning Fiction

At the onset of the episode, the Pottawatomie killings of May 1856 are juxtaposed with John Brown’s experience as a traumatized twelve-year-old, forced to watch a white man brutally beating a young black man with a shovel, an incident that Brown recalled in a letter when he was nearing sixty years of age.  It is an important juxtaposition, although it would have been fair more accurate to have simply contextualized the killings in the political violence that had been unleashed by proslavery terrorists prior to the Pottawatomie incident.  Nevertheless, L/L goes further than any documentary I’ve seen by showing that antislavery people in Kansas were met with violence from the proslavery side.  Of course, L/L does not adequately explain how the Pottawatomie killings were specific to a local threat looming over the Browns as radical abolitionists.

Following the conventional narrative, L/L also connects the Pottawatomie killings to the beating of Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner by Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina on May 22, 1856, in Washington D.C.   This mistaken notion was addressed on this blog by my able associate and contributor H. Scott Wolfe in 2011 [Aug. 6], when he wrote with well-place sarcasm:

The ruffians sack Lawrence on the 21st, right? Sumner is caned in Washington, D.C. on the afternoon of the 22nd. How does Brown, on the plains of frontier Kansas, learn of it on the same day? Did the New York Tribune rent a Space Shuttle? The telegraph ended at St. Louis…and the tracks to St. Joseph would not be finished until the ‘60s. What did they do? Hire an Olympic swimmer at St. Charles and have him paddle up the Missouri with a message in his trunks?”

 As Wolfe pointed out, the connection of the caning of Sumner to Pottawatomie was fabricated by Brown’s son, Salmon, later in life, but was not really questioned until 1971 by Brown biographer Jules Abels.  As Wolfe concluded, it is clear that Salmon Brown had used the Sumner caning incident to “embellish” his narrative in 1908—an error which ended up in Oswald Villard’s 1909 biography and spread into much of the 20th century literature.  In the same blog entry, too, the reader will find that Salmon had made no mention of the Sumner caning as an influence on Brown when he wrote a detailed account in 1901.  In 2011, Robert McGlone, who is far too inclined to deny incidents in Brown’s life, fortunately took the correct side in challenging the Sumner caning as an influence on the Pottawatomie affair. (As I wrote in 2011: “What surprises me about McGlone, however, is that he does not bother to trace [the Sumner-Pottawatomie link] to Salmon Brown, nor to raise his “memory” thesis, in which he points out the distortions and revisions that sometimes take place in later accounts provided by eyewitnesses.”)

In the Pottawatomie portion, L/L also features some interesting misrepresentations of a secondary nature.  First, the episode shows an enslaved man cowering on the edge of the scene as Brown’s men kill their victims.  Secondly, it also shows Brown shooting one of his fallen foes, who lies moaning at his feet.  The man allegedly shot was James Doyle, one of the local proslavery thugs who intended to attack Brown and his sons but was surprised when his intended victims struck first.

Bullet to the Head

The claim (based on one unreliable source) that Brown killed Doyle by shooting him in the head, actually flies in the face of evidence and testimony, and the most intensive scholarly investigations have found to the contrary.  There is no doubt that Brown actually shot the head of Doyle’s corpse, but the motivation for the act and its meaning to Brown even eluded his sons.  The best discussion on this point is found in McGlone, John Brown’s War Against Slavery (pp. 139-41).  Even Oswald Villard, who was absolutely critical of Brown’s actions at Pottawatomie, concluded that the old man had shot Doyle’s corpse. We may only speculate as to why Brown would shoot a corpse.  One theory is that Brown’s single shot in the night was a signal to the others, still out in the darkness, finishing the bloody work at Pottawatomie.  Another theory is that Brown might have been gripped by the sudden notion that Doyle was still alive, and he shot him to put him out of his misery.  However, I would prefer to think that the shot in the head of Doyle’s corpse was a personal and ceremonial act of desecration—a statement, as it were, from one father to another.  Doyle and his two sons had plotted to kill the Brown boys for their outspoken abolitionism, but the good father had intervened and killed the bad father.   Perhaps the bullet to Doyle’s corpse punctuated the conclusion of the matter as Brown saw it.  He thereafter repeatedly and denied that he had taken part in the killings, and one should understand his claims in the most literal sense.  He was present and commanded the attack, but he had raised his hand against no man alive nor taken a life.

In the end, L/L’s use of the Pottawatomie affair is somewhat better than it has been presented in other TV documentaries, although we have yet to see a television narrative that appreciates the extent of danger that the Browns were facing from proslavery invasion in May 1856.  What was interesting was not that Brown escaped being compared to a terrorist, but that he was described as “equal parts prophet and terrorist.”

Miscellaneous Errors

One important misrepresentation of this L/L episode was the historical premise that following the revolution, the United States had become two nations within one.  According to L/L, the North had become dependent upon industry, and the South had become dependent upon cotton.  This is a skewed and misleading statement and is only true insofar as it reflects the cultural differences that continued to define the contrast between industrialized northern cities and rural southern life.  However, economic and political terms, there was no such contrast.  Northern industry and commerce was directly linked to and dependent upon Southern slavery.  This was no more evident than in the case of New York City, where proslavery interest in business was rife.  As I’ve shown in Freedom’s Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown, the uproar against Brown and against possible southern secession (i.e., for the sustenance of the status quo, including slavery) was fueled largely by political and economic interests in the North.

Another error is made in Kilmeade’s narrative about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, when he says that “few know that John Brown was part of the same organization of abolitionists.”   Of course, the underground railroad was not an “organization,” but a collaborative system at best.  The underground railroad had no organizational structure, nor officers, nor political documents.  The abolitionist organization that did exist most expansively was William Lloyd’s Garrison’s American Antislavery Society, and John Brown was never a member of this or any organization. (A minor detail regarding Brown and Tubman in Canada is the misspelling of “St. Catherines,” which actually is “St. Catharines” (but now I’m being picky).

Tubman and Brown

Interestingly, perhaps the worst feature in this episode of L/L pertains to Harriet Tubman.  It comes in the form of a frankly stupid, biased, and gratuitous interpolation by Kirk Ellis, the screenplay writing “historian” who is included as one of the program’s “talking heads.”  Ellis’ remark comes in relating the mysterious dream that Harriet Tubman had prior to meeting John Brown, in which she saw the old man and his sons defeated.   Tubman’s dream was symbolic, and in “Fire from the Midst of You,” I have offered an interpretation of the strange imagery of that dream, in which she saw an old, bearded white man as a serpent in the wilderness (see p. 263).  

In L/L, Ellis contorts this religious dimension in Harriet Tubman’s life, referring to her premonitory dream of Brown as a “vision,” which he attributes to a head wound that she had sustained years before while in slavery.  “As a result,” Ellis opines, “she was subject to what we now think was temporal lobe epilepsy, which would give her these stunningly realistic premonitory visions.”   I wonder, who the “we” is who “now think” that Tubman’s spirituality can be summed up by a head wound?   This is a silly speculation, and the subject matter—Harriet’s prophetic dream of John Brown—would have been better left as a mystery of her biography. 


Harper’s Ferry and Some Weak Links

As to the Harper’s Ferry raid, L/L’s screenplay-historian Ellis reiterates the old Virginia myth that Brown intended to seize the arsenal weapons in order to get guns for the slaves.   He tag-teams this nonsense with David Eisenbach of Columbia University, who then rants: “[Brown is] going to send out his men, they’re going to liberate the slaves, give them guns, and then those slaves are going to go out  and take over more plantations and get more slaves with guns, he’s going to build this sizable army and then they’re going to march into the South armed to the teeth.” To the contrary, John Brown was not trying to build an army and march into the south “armed to the teeth.”  He was trying to build a growing movement of associated armed cadres  that would conduct armed rescues throughout the south, leading enslaved people off and destabilizing slavery from Virginia to the Gulf of Mexico--without large military conflicts.   But Eisenbach can be forgiven because he is the weakest link in the program.  As an accomplished scholar of contemporary history and culture, Eisenbach simply doesn’t know jack-squat about John Brown—his specializations apparently being the pornographer Larry Flynt, the gay rights movement, and media studies.   

The Raid and Civil War "Experts"

Overall the portion about the Harper’s Ferry raid presented by L/L is an extremely condensed version, but not badly done. In L/L, Kilmeade’s commentary properly observes that Brown wanted to connect his effort with the claims of the founding fathers, showing the consistency of his liberation movement and the inconsistency of slavery.   L/L also shows how the men at Harper’s Ferry—who actually were mostly drunken—fired upon A.D. Stevens under a flag of truce, nearly killing him.  On the other hand, however, there is no reason to believe that John Brown was inside the engine house in the last moments of his stand, barking to the enemy outside, “God is on our side!”

Far worse, L/L includes a bona fide Civil War scholar, Brooks D. Simpson, Ph.D., who predictably weighs in on the raid by stating: “Brown’s raid caught people by surprise, it was so audacious, it was so daring, and yet it was so badly planned that it was doomed to failure from the beginning.” What can one say to such expertise?  To borrow a line from Yogi Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again!”  Since the 20th century, Civil War military historians have often been drawn upon as experts on John Brown, although typically scholars like Simpson know next to nothing about him.  The tendency to mistake Civil War scholars for John Brown experts is a perennial problem and Professor Simpson is the latest example.  Although he’s a brilliant and prolific writer, Simpson suffers from a proximity presumption.  He imagines that because he studies the Civil War, he is competent to speak to John Brown’s plans—a very questionable conclusion.  Contrary to Simpson, John Brown’s plan was well made, and only the deity could say that it was “doomed to failure.”  Far worse plans have succeeded, and perhaps far more certain plans have failed.  But Simpson, lacking an indepth study of Brown’s plan and purposes, is simply in no place to make such judgment, and instead seems to be speaking from unstudied prejudice.
Lincoln

As to the man who became the 16th president, L/L is fair enough in showing that Abraham Lincoln was moderate, and that he defended slavery’s right to remain in slave states on the legal basis of the U.S. Constitution, and that he was a gradualist in his view of removing slavery.  This honest portrayal of Lincoln surprised me.  He was not candy-coated.  At the Cooper Union, he separates himself and his Republican party from John Brown, his presidential victory sparks a rebel reaction because, as L/L rightly observe, the southern slaveholders wrongly assumed that Lincoln was another John Brown.

The Hanging

For dramatic effect, no doubt, L/L features JB speaking from the gallows, as he was made to do in Santa Fe Trail (1940).  L/L overplays the presence of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, being in Charlestown, although it is true that he did join a Virginia militia group in order to participate in the execution.   L/L portrays Booth as having words with Brown in jail, and although this is possible, it is nowhere documented (not even by Booth).  L/L places Booth at the execution of John Brown, but says he stole a uniform to get there, which is not the case.  Booth actually was friends with certain Virginia militia men and was enabled by this connection to join them and go to Charlestown.

Not a Bad Conclusion

At the conclusion of L/L, Kilmeade makes a thoughtful assessment that frankly surprised me. “Now from its beginning, America is celebrated as a land of opportunity, and to many it is.  But while some prosper, millions of African Americans are robbed of their freedom and their humanity.  And when rational argument and appeals to human decency fail to end the horrors of slavery, it takes a violent demand that the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be fulfilled—at any cost.  John Brown’s cry to purge the land with blood is ultimately answered by the most brutal and bloody time in American history.”   This is worth one good “Amen.”--LD

Friday, March 23, 2018

From the Field: H. Scott Wolfe on "Razing A Landmark"


“FOR SAFETY, BUT AGAINST SENTIMENT”

RAZING A LANDMARK

H. SCOTT WOLFE


If this humble correspondent wished to sit down and create his own personal nightmare, the following would comprise its salient points:
It is a beautiful summer day on the Iowa prairie. I can hear the gentle rustling of the cornstalks…the melodious trill of innumerable meadowlarks. There is that indescribable smell of hot, productive earth. It is Quaker country, and an aura of calm, of peace, settles upon the rolling, shimmering landscape. History is palpable. These people have worked this ground and attended these churches for what seems an eternity.
I am ambling along a dirt road, a mile northeast of Springdale. And as I approach the farmstead of the Gray family, other sounds begin to impose themselves upon my consciousness. The laughs, the guttural clearings of throats of the work crew. The jangle of chains and the sudden ignition of a tractor engine. 
As I pass the red granite boulder, with its greenish plaque of bronze, I am met with a fog of choking dust; a cacophony of falling stone…of cracking wood…of whatever sounds are produced when history is being destroyed. Behind the Gray place and beyond the spindly iron windmill, the Maxson farmhouse lies in ruins. Then I wake up.
For those readers of this blog who might recall an earlier piece entitled “Farmer Maxson’s Newel Post” [Jun. 2, 2011], it will be obvious that I possess a certain attachment to this “old gravel house” which once hosted John Brown and the Provisional Army he led to Harpers Ferry. Some of my most fascinating research was conducted near Springdale…as I interviewed the old-timers who remembered the house…and I was even able to drive away with a surviving fragment of its polished walnut staircase.
Every time I visit the site, passing through the same cornstalks and hearing the same meadowlarks as in my dream, I can feel a growing tightness in my stomach…as I fantasize about what it would be like if the house still stood proudly as a monument to those who came before. What if? What if those of the 1930s, who recognized its significance and advocated its preservation, had been successful? But the ravages of weather, farm storage and souvenir hunting had brought the structure to the verge of collapse. The workers on the Gray farm administered the coup de grace. My nightmare is true.
But I continue to piece together the saga of the Maxson farmhouse. The old-timers have gone to their reward…but there are still images and documentary accounts out there to be found and studied. I herewith offer one such account, as it appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen of Monday, 29 August 1938:

OLD ‘JOHN BROWN HOUSE’ OF NEAR WEST BRANCH IS TORN DOWN; STRUCTURE IS RAZED BECAUSE OF CONDITION

IN SUCH DISREPAIR THAT IT WAS NO LONGER SAFE 

FOR ENTRY BY VISITORS
West Branch - The “old John Brown house” has been torn down. The historic gravel house in which John Brown wintered his handful of followers in 1857-58, on what was then the William Maxson farm, seven miles northeast of West Branch and three miles from Springdale, had fallen into such disrepair that it was no longer safe to enter, so the Gray family, now owning the farm, decided to tear it down. Many visitors go to the Gray farm to see the historic landmark and for safety, but against sentiment, the house was razed.
Maxson House in Desrepair (Historic American Buildings Survey)
       Several attempts have been made to restore the house, but nothing was accomplished. The D.A.R. members, however, erected a marker with a native boulder on which was placed a bronze tablet carrying the inscription which indicated the history of the place.

The old gravel house was of architectural interest, being unusually fine for its period, as well as being historically interesting. It occupied the site of the first white man’s cabin built on this side of the Cedar River in Cedar County in 1839, by William Maxson. Mr. Maxson built the gravel house in 1848, its walls a foot thick, its lath of split native oak, and its woodwork of hand-carved walnut. The one-story structure, 24 by 38 feet, with an annex, 16 by 20 feet, had five rooms. A huge stone fireplace in the living room duplicated another in the basement, in which runaway slaves could be hidden. The basement room, too, was frequently used as a station on the “underground railway,” with Negroes grouped about the fireplace to sing and dance in happy anticipation of freedom.

Missing East Wall (Historic American Buildings Survey
  From the Maxson farm they were spirited at night to the next point on the phantom route. Surrounding the house was the timber, a dense wooded area separating the farm from the river, and since it was remote from the main traveled trails, it was ideal for Brown’s purpose.

John Brown’s first visit to West Branch occurred in the fall of 1856, but he remained only a short time. More than a year later, in the latter part of December, 1857, he returned, accompanied by a curious cavalcade of followers, consisting of a dozen white men, two or three wagons, a few mules and some slaves who were being helped to freedom. His money was scarce and although he was enroute to Ashtabula County, Ohio, he was obliged to winter his “army” in Iowa while he continued his journey east to solicit funds.
William T. Maxson 

He was delighted to leave them in this peaceful locality, for the Quakers were sympathetic to his cause, although they disapproved his methods. Whether or not they would have sheltered his men is not known, for William Maxson, who was not a member of the Society of Friends, took them in, and shared his five rooms of his home with the young men during that memorable winter.

      When Brown continued his way east he left behind his son, Owen Brown, about 30 years old; Richard Realf, a brilliant young Englishman of 23; John Henri Kagi, shorthand reporter and western correspondent for the New York Post; Aaron D. Stephens, known as Colonel Whipple; John Edwin Cook, Luke J. Parsons, William H. Leeman, Charles Plummer Tidd, Charles W. Moffit, and a Negro named Richardson. When they went east they were accompanied by Edwin Coppock of Springdale, who met his death with John Brown at Harpers Ferry.

Crumbling Farm Storage (Historic American Buildings Survey
The young men of Brown’s company were delighted with the associations they found in the neighborhood of Springdale. Cultured and giving up excellent prospects in business for the pursuit of their “cause,” they enjoyed the social privileges of the locality, but since their business came first, they rigidly observed the rules by rising early in the mornings and devoting the forenoons to military drill on the grounds east of the Maxson house.

 The afternoons were given to reading, study, writing or painting, and the evenings were devoted to spirited debates. Two evenings of each week were devoted to mock legislatures, which at first were held in the Maxson living room and later in the Springdale school house. Such subjects as the abolition of slavery, prohibitory liquor laws and the national banking system were discussed with brilliance and ability.
Late in April, 1858, John Brown returned and hurried preparations were made for departure. George B. Gill accompanied them as Brown’s secretary, and two Coppock boys deserted the village to go east on what the Quakers sadly feared was a hopeless and dangerous journey.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Defaced But Not Defeated: The Quindaro John Brown Statue and Its Heroes

Defaced: The John Brown Statue in Quindaro, Kansas City, Kan.
(photo by Keith Myers, Kansas City Star)
The Kansas City Star (Mar. 18) reports that a revered statue of John Brown in Quindaro Township, Kansas City, Kan., was discovered to have been defaced with racist Nazi graffiti.1  It is not clear when the the racist attack on the statue took place, but it was recently discovered by Fred Whitehead, a longtime admirer and student of John Brown.  Whitehead called it a "sickening sight" and concluded that "John Brown provokes a visceral reaction" in racists.  A local scholar says the statue was erected in 1911 and was thought to be the first statue of John Brown.

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
Find-A-Grave
However, perhaps the more influential proponents of the John Brown statue project were two notable AME clergyman, Bishop Abraham Grant and Rev. Dr. W. T. Vernon.  It was the former who apparently "went east to place the contract for the monument." (However, I have not been able to determine the sculptor thus far.  As always, I'd be pleased to include any further information provided by readers.)  Grant (1848-1911) was born into slavery in Florida, his mother having given birth to him in an ox cart.  Like all enslaved people, Grant's African identity and family name were lost to the oppressive forces of white supremacy, and prior to emancipation, he wore his oppressor's name.  After emancipation, the young man took his first name from Abraham Lincoln, and his last name from General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union army.  In slavery,  Grant was permitted to learn to read by his master; but his schooling was enabled after the Civil War by various AME bishops and elders that met him while working as a head waiter in  Jacksonville, Fl.   Grant lived for a time in San Antonio, Tex., and then made his way to Kansas City, Kan.  Subsequently, he traveled twice to Africa and several times to Europe, where he studied "the solution of the race problem." He was elected the 19th bishop of the AME Church on May 19, 1888, and ordained on May 24.  However, Grant died in 2011, only months after seeing the John Brown statue installed at Quindaro.3

Bishop W. T. Vernon, ca. 1920
Kansas City Sun
Like Grant, the Rev. Dr. William Tecumseh Vernon bore a name in tribute to a Union champion of the Civil War.  Vernon was born after the end of slavery to parents who had been victims of the so-called "Peculiar Institution" in the mountains of southwest Missouri.  Vernon's father had been an AME minister, but William first became a teacher before embarking upon his ministry vocation.  In fact, at the time of the launching of the John Brown statue project, Vernon was only three years out of serving as President of Western University.  At the time of the statue project and its completion, he was serving as the U.S. Register of the Treasury, an appointment made by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Vernon served in this capacity until 1914.  Afterward, he served as President of Campbell College for six years, then a pastorate in Memphis, Tenn., and culminated his life mission by serving as the 45th Bishop of the AME Church from 1920-1936.4

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."6
When 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.

Defaced, But Not Defeated

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."


Notes


    2 "John Brown Statue On Quindaro Grounds," Topeka Daily Capital, Dec. 16, 1909, p. 4; "First A.M.E. Church," National Review [Kan. City, Kan.], June 21, 1913, p. 3; "W.W. Fisher the Clerk in Charge at Western University," Gazette Globe [Kan. City, Kan.], Oct. 16, 1909, p. 1.
     3 "John Brown Statue On Quindaro Grounds"; "Colored Bishop Dead: Abraham Grant, An Ex-Slave Died Yesterday," Daily Republican [Cherryville, Kan.], Jan. 23, 1911; Jae Jones, "Abram [sic] Grant: Former Slave & 19th Bishop of the A.M.E. Church in Florida," BlackThen (May 22, 2017).  Retrieved from: https://blackthen.com/abram-grant-former-slave-19th-bishop-m-e-church-florida/.  Also see Grant's resting place at Find-A-Gravehttps://goo.gl/rZqZDy
     4 "John Brown Statue On Quindaro Grounds"; "Dr. W.T. Vernon," The Kansas City Sun, Apr. 24, 1920, p. 1; "Rev. William Tecumseh Vernon" at Find-A-Gravehttps://goo.gl/C1mNih.
   
     5  "Monument to John Brown," Arkansas City [Kan.] Daily News, June 9, 1911, p. 6.

     6  "John Brown Statue On Quindaro Grounds."

     7  "Negroes Honor John Brown," Oskaloosa Independent [Kan.], Jun. 23, 1911, p. 2; "Monument to John Brown."