"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Brown Remembered as Prophetic Character

For Werner Lange, a professor of sociology at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an ordained minister, it’s appropriate that Saturday’s second annual Juneteenth Scholarship Walk-A-Thon leads to Richmond Township’s John Brown Museum.

While Brown’s actions are credited by many with precipitating the Civil War, Lange sees the abolitionist’s 1859 raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., in a very different light.

“Northwestern Pennsylvania should be forever proud that this great abolitionist leader lived, worked and worshiped here,” he told the group who gathered Thursday afternoon for a press conference detailing plans for Thursday’s walk.

“We are still in an ongoing struggle because we have fallen short — so far,” he continued. “The last five words of the Pledge of Allegiance remain an ideal. Slavery has ended but racism persists.”

Lange said during a post-press-conference interview that the pioneering book that tells the true story of John Brown was written in 1935 [actually 1909--Ed.] by W.E.B. DuBois, a civil rights leader, author and one of the founders of the organization that would become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“DuBois looked at the whole history of this and recognized John Brown for the prophetic character that he is,” Lange explained. “He explicitly wrote that book to get away from all those stereotypic images of him being some wild-eyed, violent fanatic.”

Brown, Lange continued, “knew exactly what he was doing. He was doing it as a committed American Christian, based on the principles of America and the principals of Christianity. So if he’s wild-eyed and radical and off-the-wall, then our country is, too. And so is Christianity.”

For Lange, “northwestern Pennsylvania, being this strong, hard-working, family-oriented, Christian-oriented community, nurtured his deep dedication to the principals of the country and Christianity,” he explained. “He was filled with righteous anger — I think he got that from here — at the treatment of brothers and sisters of a different race through the institution of slavery.”

As Lange sees it, what Brown was trying to do “was something that worked very well for liberation groups of the 20th century known as guerilla warfare. His idea was that the slave owners would not give up just because of negotiation — there had to be force-versus-force.”

Instead of sending liberated slaves to Canada, Brown envisioned them gathered on bases established in the Appalachian Mountains. “From those camps of Appalachia, he would conduct raids on various plantations and within a matter of years bring the whole system to its knees,” Lange said. To arm those camps, Brown and 21 followers raided the arsenal.

His plans, however, were thwarted by no one less than Gen. Robert E. Lee. Captured and tried, Brown was quickly sentenced to death and hanged. His conduct during the trial, however, won him sympathy in the North; after his death, many regarded him as a martyr.

In his last address to the court that sentenced him to death, “I believe that to have interfered as I have done ... in behalf of (God’s) despised poor, was not wrong, but right,” Brown said. “Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done.”

Source: Mary Spicer, The Meadville Tribune [Meadville, Pa.], June 15, 2007. Retrieved on June 15, 2007 from: http://www.meadvilletribune.com/local/local_story_165234943.html

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