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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Akron to Commemorate John Brown Sesquicentennial

(06/01/09) - Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic today announced a series of events that will commemorate events surrounding the 150th anniversary of the raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) by Akron’s most famous historic resident, John Brown.

Civil War historians have long identified the raid on October 16, 1859 by John Brown as a pivotal event in igniting the War Between the States.

For the most part, Akron’s founding families - mostly New Englanders - favored the abolition of slavery, but few held Brown’s extreme views on the eradication of this "peculiar institution."

John Brown called Akron "home" for the better part of the decade preceding the Civil War - not that he ever stayed in one place for long. Born in Connecticut, raised in Hudson, apprenticed in Kent (then Franklin Mills,) Brown accepted the offer of Col. Simon Perkins - the son of Akron’s founder - to reside in the cottage that sits today on Diagonal Road. With his second wife Mary and nine of his twenty children, Brown resided in Akron at various times between 1843 and 1854.

"John Brown is Akron’s nationally-known link to the movement to end slavery," said Mayor Plusquellic. "He is memorialized at several places locally, and this is an opportunity for us to remember the role that Akron played in the greatest civil confrontation in our national history."

John Brown House Open on June 23

After leaving Akron in 1855, Brown was constantly on the move for his cause. On June 23, 1859 he returned to Akron with sons Oliver and Owen to visit the younger son Jason who had settled-down in Akron and who was left out of the events at Harpers Ferry. (Jason and six other family members are buried at Akron’s Glendale cemetery.)

On June 23, 2009, the City and the Summit County Historical Society will host an opening at the John Brown House on Diagonal Road at Copley Road to remember John Brown’s last trip to Akron before the Harpers Ferry Raid. The house will be open to visitors from 11:00am to 7:00pm on Tuesday, June 23.

While there is little documentation of the visit that day, when Brown stopped in Akron a few years earlier, in 1856 - according to the newspapers of the day - "he gave such a graphic account of his struggle in Kansas that a committee was appointed to help him raise money and weapons." The people of Akron gathered rifles, shotguns, knives, pistols, swords, powder, lead, and even a case of weapons stored in the county jail.

John Brown Memorial and Monument Open For Guided Tours

This summer, the City of Akron, in cooperation with the Akron Zoo, will host guided tours of the permanent monument to Brown that was created on the 76 acres along the high wooded ridge donated to the City by Col. George Tod Perkins, a Union Army veteran.

The memorial was erected by the German-American Alliance in 1910 from a sandstone pillar that was part of Summit County's first courthouse, razed in 1905. In 1938, the monument was enlarged by the "Negro 25 year Club" to include a circular stone seating area and plaza.

Today, the monument rests on property that is maintained by the Zoo, and reserved for future Zoo expansion. The area is not open to the public, and is difficult to access.

"We will be conducting guided tours of the area this summer and fall," said Akron Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth, the coordinator sesquicentennial events. "This will provide an opportunity for people who have never visited the monument to see it up-close."

Free tours of the monument and grounds will begin from the western end of the Zoo parking lot on the following dates:

* Saturday, July 4, 9:00am. (Zoo gates open at 8:30am)
* Sunday, July 5, 4:00pm
* Saturday, August 15, 9:00am
* Sunday, August 16, 4:00pm
* Saturday, September 5, 9:00am
* Sunday, September 6, 4:00pm

Lieberth says each tour will require about one hour. He cautions that the area may not be accessible to persons with physical limitations. The terrain is rough and uneven, and involves walking up an elevation that is moderately difficult.

On Friday, October 16, the actual 150th anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid, a commemorative event will be held at the zoo grounds and memorial.

In 2002, Mayor Plusquellic appointed a special task force to determine the future of the monument, a work that remains in progress with the collaboration of the Akron Zoo.

John Brown in Akron

Having gone bankrupt [by] 1842, being in partnership with Akron’s most prominent citizen was a step-up to respectability for Brown. By 1845, he was one of the most successful breeders of sheep and respected authorities on the cleaning and grading of wool in the United States, winning gold medals in New York and Boston for the Perkins-Brown partnership.

[Although establishing a wool commission operation in Springfield, Mass.], Brown badly miscalculated [his ability to take on the powerful manufacturing interests behind] the wool market. [Nor was he adequately supported by the wool growers that he and Perkins intended to represent in eastern Ohio, western Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. Their demands for quick payments plus the manipulation of the market by manufacturers brought the Perkins and Brown operation to demise. No great businessman in his own right, Perkins later ruined his own fortune by involving himself in a ruinous railroad project.] By 1850, [Brown] was [left to face the firm's legal problems involving monies owed to farmers as well as claims of the firm against the farmers.]

In 1851, Brown returned to Akron, after Perkins personally requested that he resume management of his flock. Mrs. Perkins complained of the constant presence of smuggled Negroes in the neighborhood. "He was always concerning himself with Negroes, often having several hidden at once about his place." As Brown traveled throughout the East, he was often in company of fugitive slaves.

In 1855, two Brown sons moved to the Territory of Kansas, whose fate as a slave state or free state hung in the balance while settlers determined its future. Brown became nationally notorious after the bloody raid at Osawatomie Creek undertaken by him and his sons.

Arts Organizations Commemorate the Harpers Ferry Raid

The raid that was felt around the world occurred on October 16, 1859. Brown was severely wounded by bayonets, and imprisoned for 46 days, during which time, he became an international celebrity.

In Akron in 2009, there will be several exhibits and performances to remember the sesquicentennial:

On October 16, the Akron Art Museum will open an exhibit, "The Legend of John Brown," presenting selections from Jacob Lawrence’s celebrated print series. Lawrence was the first African-American artist to depict the story of the white abolitionist. www.akronartmuseum.org

On October 17, the Akron Symphony will perform a new work, commissioned for the Akron sesquicentennial commemoration, "The Passion of John Brown," by Malone College professor Jesse Ayers, in a concert remembering the heroic works of historic figures. The concert is at 8:00pm at E. J. Thomas Hall. www.akronsymphony.org

An exhibit of historical artifacts from Akron during the era will be displayed at the Special Collections Division of the Akron-Summit County Public Library downtown, dates to be announced. http://www.ascpl.lib.oh.us

Execution of John Brown also To Be Remembered

On December 2, 1859, John Brown was hanged at Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia,) and he is buried at North Elba, NY.

In Akron, on the day of his execution, flags flew at half mast. Church bells tolled, the courts adjourned, and stores closed. That night, "a great indignation meeting" was held in Empire Hall and speeches were made by Akron’s leading citizens.

To commemorate the day of the execution of John Brown, on December 2, 2009, the City of Akron and Summit County Historical Society, will hold a memorial event in collaboration with the First Presbyterian Church on East Market Street in Akron. The church, organized in 1831, was divided by the issue of slavery in 1859, and the present day congregation descends from the anti-slavery faction of the church.

"All of these events, performances, and exhibits recall a rich era in our history," said Mayor Plusquellic. "I hope many families will use this opportunity to enrich their children’s knowledge of Akron’s role in the great cause against African slavery, and to learn more about a man who even today remains controversial."

Contact: Dave Lieberth, 330.375.2345

SOURCE: Mark Williams, City of Akron News

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