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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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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Erin Cunningham. "Public Tours Farmhouse Made Famous by John Brown."

The Herald-Mail on-line [Hagerstown, Md.], July 12, 2009

SHARPSBURG — Some historians say the Civil War began in the small Sharpsburg farmhouse where abolitionist John Brown planned his historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, said Sprigg Lynn, who owns the property with his father.

On Saturday and Sunday, the public was invited to tour the Kennedy Farmhouse on Chestnut Grove Road during an open house to commemorate the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s stay at the home where he began planning and staging the failed raid. Dennis Frye, chief historian for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and head of the committee overseeing the John Brown commemoration in four states, said about 300 people attended the event Saturday and another 200 were expected Sunday. In addition to tours, led by the property owner, South “Captain” Lynn of Montgomery County, Md., visitors also were able to participate in children’s activities, listen to music and have refreshments.

On June 30, 1859, Brown spent the night in Hagerstown, at the former hotel that is now the site of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, Frye said. Then, in the first week of July, Brown rented the Kennedy Farmhouse, where he stayed until Oct. 16, 1859, before the famous raid. “Here (at the Kennedy Farmhouse), Brown hid his army, secured his weapons and made his plans to attack Harpers Ferry,” Frye said.

A little more than one year after the raid, the American Civil War began.

On Saturday officials unveiled a new marker, making the Kennedy Farmhouse an official stop on the Maryland Civil War Trail. The federal government also has declared it a National Historic Landmark.

If you are interested in a tour of the Kennedy Farmhouse, go to www.johnbrown.org or call 202-537-8900 and ask for “Captain.”

For additional information about activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, go to www.johnbrownraid.org.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brown Biographer David Reynolds Interviewed in Esquire; Some After Thoughts

David Reynolds is a fine scholar and his 2005 biography of Brown has probably done more to bring the subject to the front burner of historical recognition than any other work in the last quarter of a century. I have my differences with his work on certain points, but his book is a milestone effort, and Reynolds himself has caught a lot of heat because his reading of Brown is far more generous than is admitted by his apparent willingness to class Brown as a "terrorist."

This is apparent in a June 16th interview in Esquire magazine by John H. Richardson. My own comments follow the text of the interview, which is reproduced entirely as follows:

The recent assassination of Dr. George Tiller by a "pro-life" activist got me thinking about John Brown, the abolitionist whose bloody raid on Harper's Ferry is widely credited for sparking the Civil War. Since anti-abortionists often compare abortion to slavery, I searched around to refresh my dim memory and was surprised to find a CUNY Graduate Center professor named David S. Reynolds — a National Book Award finalist for Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography — calling Brown "a deeply religious, flawed, yet ultimately noble reformer."

Noble? He hacked people to death with swords.

I called Reynolds for clarification.

"John Brown, in a sense, took the law into his own hands to start a war of terror that would dislodge slavery," he admitted. "But to me, slavery is qualitatively different from abortion."

Some of Reynolds's reasons, and I quote:

1. This was an absolutely vital national issue. As the Civil War proved, tens of thousands of Americans were willing to take up arms — 620,000 Americans died, more than all other wars. Abortion doesn't seem to be that nationally divisive.

2. Abortion was an issue in the nineteenth century, when abortion techniques were much worse than now, and Native Americans were horribly killed by thousands. But John Brown only took up arms against slavery. And even pacifist types like Henry David Thoreau supported him.

3. Brown looked forward to being hanged because he wanted to die for the millions of black people who were enslaved at that time. When he was in prison, he wasn't thinking of himself — all of his letters were filled with comments about the poor slaves.

4. There was a certain democracy to his vision. Even though he was devoutly Christian, and in some ways extremely conservative, some of his followers were atheists, deists, skeptics. It wasn't just the Christian right versus Leftism — he had a deeply American and democratic form of terrorism, if you want to call it that.

Of course, you could say much of the above about Osama Bin Laden, and people have — like the distinguished Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who once wondered what would have happened to America if John Brown had access to airplanes? Reynolds's answer, when I pit the same choice to him, was either a classic academic hedge or painfully honest humility. Take your pick:

"Everything is, to some degree, subjective — I think Nazism, slavery, what Pol Pot did, what Mussolini did — I mean, slavery was the murder and rape and torture of adult people as well of children. To me, personally, from my subjective standpoint, that's qualitatively different than killing a fetus. But I know that for other people, that's not true."

And Bin Laden also believes he is fighting a justified war against an imperial power that kills adult and children.

"Bin Laden wants to ban Christianity, atheism, and Judaism and create a Muslim theocracy," Reynolds continued. "That seems to me so incredibly radically different than what John Brown believed in, which is a nation in which people of all races and creeds and both genders are given the exact same social rights. So from my perspective, people like Paul Hill and George Tiller seem too narrow."

I'm giving Reynolds a hard time, but his argument is one that most Americans consciously or unconsciously accept. In fact, every time you sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which is a slightly altered version of "John Brown's Body," you are praising an act of domestic terrorism:

He captured Harper's Ferry with his nineteen men so true
He frightened old Virginia till she trembled
through and through
They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew
His soul is marching on..."

And therein lies the problem. His soul is marching on. And marching and marching and marching. "Was it worth it?" I asked Reynolds, hoping that two congenitally waffling Whitman lovers like ourselves could find a way out of this endless nightmare. "Was ending slavery was worth 620,000 lives?"

"Yeah, I think it was," he told me. "It's a horrible thing to say."

Even though the first person Brown killed at Harper's Ferry was a free black man?

"Yes," he said. "It's a tragedy."
First, I would point out interviewer Richardson's sense of horror over the few people killed by John Brown's actions, as well as the loss of over one-half million Civil War soldiers (most of whom were white) is not counter-balanced by an apparent sense of horror over the realities of slavery. Reynolds appreciates the extent of wickedness that slavery represents in our history, but Richardson seems indifferent, which is why he has the audacity to ask: "Was ending slavery worth 620,000 lives?" Give or take a number of thousands of black soldiers and war victims, what Richardson actually seems to be asking is: "Was ending the enslavement of black people worth a half-million white people's lives?" This should tell the reader something immediately about the perspective of the interviewer vis-a-vis John Brown.

Of course I do not agree that Brown was a "terrorist," not in Richardson's hostile sense of the word, or in Reynolds' much friendlier use of the term. Brown is a counter-terrorist by all standards and anyone who denies this simply has not read his story correctly. By 1858 he was a law-breaker and a wanted man to be sure; but considering that the U.S.A. in the mid-19th century was a flagrantly racist, white supremacist, and unjust and violent nation in its treatment of blacks and Indians, I find it hard to be so scandalized by Brown's brand of "criminality." Those who condemn Brown by holding "law" over his head as if it were the ultimate standard of righteousness are off-balance and typically insensitive to the realities of this nation's history. In 1859, the law of the land declared that black people had no rights that whites were bound to respect; the law declared that black people were slave masters' property any where in the nation; and the law mandated that anti-slavery whites had to assist slave hunters in arresting black people in the North so that they could be forcibly "returned" to the South in chains. If you hold that kind of law over John Brown's head, you're no better than slave master and a tyrant yourself.

As to abortion, I really do believe that if John Brown were transported into the era of Roe v. Wade he would be absolutely "mortified" (to use one of his favorite terms) by the contemporary secular notion of democracy that reigns supreme, as well as the vast numbers of abortions that have taken place in the name of "choice." My liberal and leftist friends who admire John Brown likely would prefer not to talk about these matters because it makes them feel uncomfortable to think that their hero was a conservative Christian as well as a radical abolitionist and militant egalitarian. Indeed, David Reynolds was understating things when he told Richardson that Brown "was devoutly Christian, and in some ways extremely conservative." John Brown was an evangelical, a Westminster Confession Calvinist, and a believer in the Bible as the inspired word of God. His views on contemporary issues like choice and gay rights would most certainly be no different from the typical contemporary evangelical viewpoint today. To be sure, Brown was not as culturally narrow-minded or racist as most evangelicals then and now, but his "progressive" orientation stopped at race and class issues.

But would John Brown shoot an abortion professional or blow up an abortion service site? Although many people, liberals and conservatives alike, assume that he would do so, I disagree. Based on what I have observed of Brown's life and beliefs, I do not think he would take any violent action against abortion professionals or abortion service sites unless (1) the anti-abortion side had exhausted every legal and democratic measure in the effort to abolish abortion and (2) pro-abortion people were forcing their practice upon anti-abortion people. In the absence of both dilemmas, Brown would probably advocate using every possible democratic measure, as well as educational, religious, and social means of discouraging women from resorting to abortion. This is not mere speculation. A careful reading of Brown's life shows that he fairly well followed the same standards in opposing slavery and its advocates.

Reynolds points out that abortion is not as divisive an issue today as slavery was in 1859. That's true in many respects. Many conservatives, including evangelical Christians who denounce abortion, have apparently come to a grudging acceptance of the status quo. Beyond voting for the ostensible "anti-abortion" Republican candidate, evangelicals characteristically have not taken on the anti-abortion struggle with the same determination that their forebears did in fighting slavery. This is largely because abortion is more complex and difficult to address as a social and cultural issue. Even women with anti-abortion convictions have had abortions and the church must minister to these women with a greater degree of sympathy and compassion. And this is the point: if abortion and slavery are parallel wrongs, then who is the actual counterpart to the slave master--the abortion professional or the woman who chooses to have an abortion? Either way, critics of Brown should remember that he never killed a slave master (except in a pitched gun battle) in Kansas or Harper's Ferry. Brown did not advocate the murder of slave masters as a measure of ending slavery per se; why do people think that he would necessarily gun down an abortion professional?

Finally, assuming that Brown opposed abortion on the basis of personal religion and spirituality, he might simply throw up his hands and conclude that a nation that promotes abortion in the name of democracy deserves whatever moral and social degeneration that befalls it. He once repeated the words of Euripedes in silencing a smart-mouthed Virginian, saying: "'Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,' and you are mad." It might be that having made careful examination of his beloved America in the 21st century, John Brown might simply leave it at that.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

John Brown and Ely Moore: A Kansas Debate Explained

John Brown was a dedicated foe of slavery and regarded anyone who sided with or was neutral on the slavery issue with suspicion. Ely Moore Jr. was neutral in the fight over slavery and enforced federal government Indian policy in the area, which made him an ally of a proslavery federal government in Brown’s eyes and, therefore, an enemy.

Moore and Brown had an antagonistic relationship, and Moore’s account of Brown’s conduct in Kansas Territory reveals the disdain the men had for each other. Moore reported in Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1911-1912 that “in the late summer or early fall of 1855, an evil bird swooped down upon us, arrogantly invading our territory. True, the bird assumed the form of a man, but carried a heart of stone that could not be mellowed save by the flow of human blood. The noxious visant, though by some crowned as a saint and a martyr, was but a dangerous paranoiac at large — John Brown.”

Moore’s opposition to Brown’s abolitionist crusade in Kansas Territory was compounded by Brown’s refusal to allow him and a companion to enter his camp Dec. 24-25, 1855. Brown’s reaction angered Moore, for Moore had rescued him in November 1855 from a near-drowning and freezing death in Rabbit Creek. However, Brown was an abolitionist guerilla fighter, and the last thing he wanted was to have a federal government agent in his camp who could report to authorities how many men he had and his whereabouts.

Moore firmly stated his opinion of Brown, saying “the adoration which many entertain for John Brown and his acts here and elsewhere is incomprehensible. Even the State Historical Society insults the heirs of many good and brave Kansans by placing on the walls of the honorable secretaries’ office the portrait of John Brown, surrounded by the portraits of those gallant men who placed Kansas on her sturdy feet, even giving up their gifted lives in so doing.”

Brown is a deeply controversial character in American and world history. His actions in Kansas Territory and his raid in Harpers Ferry, Va., helped to spark the Civil War. The reality that his actions in and around Osawatomie were a part of changing U.S. history made Osawatomie history of national and international importance.

However, there is another aspect of Brown’s abolitionist crusade that makes him and Osawatomie historically important. He has become a philosophical example when people nationally and internationally discuss the issue of ideologically-based violence. Historians and others analyze Brown’s actions in Kansas, studying his motives and the ramifications of his abolitionist crusade.

Brown inspires debate about actions that began when he battled proslavery forces during the Bleeding Kansas period and his raid at Harpers Ferry. The debate continues in the present and shows no sign of fading. Brown’s actions in and around Osawatomie are a part of that discussion, and the controversy over Brown puts Osawatomie on the historical map, which brings visitors to the community from all over the nation and the world.
— Grady Atwater is site administrator at the John Brown State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas. His knowledgeable and thoughtful articles on John Brown are always appreciated by the readers of this blog.--LD

Friday, July 03, 2009

Distorting John Brown: Another Case of Journalistic Irresponsibility

Few would deny that in the popular mind of our nation, the abolitionist John Brown may be one of the most hated figures in U.S. history. Maybe I'm wrong, but I haven't observed the kind of sloppiness or slander typical of writings on Brown put forth about other perceived "traitors" and enemies of the state. From Benedict Arnold forward, no one elicits such contempt and condescending attitudes from the masses, generally speaking, as does John Brown. To be sure, one could make a list of the kinds of people who decidedly disregard or even hate Brown out of loyalty to their particular ideology--some conservative, some liberal, some religious, some secular, etc. These kinds of people find fault with Brown as they perceive him through the grid of their particular ideological beliefs. Yet the bigger problem is not those with "specialty" reasons for despising John Brown. I do not expect the high priests and worshipers at the shrine of Abraham Lincoln to acknowledge Brown's leadership and heroism since they are religiously devoted to elevating Lincoln as a liberator and saint, thus requiring the near total diminishment of Brown. Similarly, one would hardly be surprised at southerners--still pitifully clinging to the "Old South" romance (or those dreaming of a new "Christian" South seceding from the union!)--hating Brown. It would seem that nothing short of divine intervention could lift the veil from such clouded eyes of prejudice.

Yet it is not these "specialty" critics that do the most damage to Brown's popular legacy. Rather it is the widespread misinformation and misrepresentation that prevails due to years of stubborn misportrayal by film makers, novelists, journalists, and (nowadays) bloggers that sustains a prevailing cloud of ignorance and bias against him in popular culture. Much of the Brown "dislike" in this country was born from the misinformation rendered from a high school history text book or similarly miseducated history teacher (where I grew up, high school history teachers were just sports coaches disguised as teachers anyway). This kind of miseducation continues through negative images and portrayals in movies and magazine articles. If you monitored the internet as I do regarding John Brown, you would be amazed at how many ill-informed references and remarks are made about him across this country every week. Most of this nonsense is not worth responding to because it is merely the flotsam and jetsam of the very cultural ignorance of which I write.

Not so rarely, however, journalists publish features that are more likely to contribute to the ongoing anti-Brown ignorance and misinformation that plagues this culture.

For example, recently I have responded to a number of articles by Jim and Lisa Gilbert, two otherwise capable journalists writing for a newspaper in Chatham, Ontario (Canada), who have been doing articles about John Brown's interaction with blacks in Canada in 1858. The Gilberts are seemingly determined to portray Brown with the "wild eyes" (sometimes they are "flashing") of a religious fanatic. Of course they also portray Brown's strategy in the South as doomed and insurrectionary. Neither journalist has adequately studied Brown's history, yet the norms of journalism permit Brown to be castigated, misportrayed, and diminished without warrant. Were Robert E. Lee or Andrew Jackson treated with the same hostile misinformation, all of the academic world would rise up in rebuke. But it's okay if your facts about Brown are wrong; it's perfectly acceptable to batter and abuse his reputation without checking the evidence of history. This double standard exists because it has become culturally acceptable.

I have taken you on this long-winded introduction only because Michael Cervin, a journalist and author, has recently published an article about Brown in an on-line magazine entitled Vision [San Diego, Calif.]. His article, "A Long Night’s Journey into Day," is yet another example of how popular readers are misinformed by irresponsible journalism. Cervin's article is fraught with detail errors. For instance, he has Brown's entire 21-man army of raiders marching to Harper's Ferry to attack the armory, when in fact a portion of the men remained behind; he describes Brown as "a tall, lanky man of six feet," when Brown was actually little more than 5' 9" and has been described as "sinewy" and slender, not "lanky" (is Cervin confusing Brown with Lincoln?); Cervin says that Brown's raid was "ill-timed and poorly planned," and in this he is (at best) only half-right. The timing of the raid was not according to Brown's intention. According to his son Owen Brown, the raid had to be expedited because Brown had reason to believe that authorities were going to be alerted. More importantly, the raid was actually quite well-planned. Consider that Brown had been studying the armory structure in the U.S. for about a decade. There were only two federal armories in the country, one in Springfield, Mass., where he had lived in the 1840s, and the other was in Harper's Ferry, Va. (I believe it was during his residence in Springfield that he first got the idea of attacking Harper's Ferry.) Brown knew that neither armory was protected by military guard and that the civilian guard at Harper's Ferry was ill-prepared. It is also a fiction of both journalists and academics that Brown did no advance work in contacting the enslaved community, and that the enslaved population showed little or no interest in his endeavors. There is more than sufficient evidence to the contrary. In short, Brown's raid was well-planned. It failed, by Brown's own admission, because he failed to follow through with his own plans. Overly ponderous and distracted by debates and parley with captive slavemasters, Brown's delay of but a few hours proved lethal. Yet he could shut the mouth of Virginia's Governor Wise by reminding him that despite the alleged foolhardy nature of his assault, he actually held Harper's Ferry successfully for more than one day!

Following conventional narratives, Cervin writes that Brown "was a failure at most everything he put his hand to and he’d accumulated debts he could never pay." To be sure, Brown did have preponderant business failings. But he was also one of the most notable authorities of fine sheep and wool in his era and his expertise was so well recognized in the antebellum era that he could write certificates of quality for livestock and was called upon by farmers in the northeast for his expertise and opinion. He may have failed as an entrepreneur, but readers should recall that he did not do so in a vacuum. Many of his contemporaries failed in business too.

Furthermore, Brown lived a time when there was no national bank or federal currency, no limited liability corporations, business insurances, etc. that are commonly used by entrepreneurs today. Finally, despite the failure of his wool commission operation in Springfield, Mass., which he operated in partnership with the wealthy Simon Perkins Jr. of Akron, Ohio, a closer examination of the firm's failure must take into consideration the opposition of manufacturing interests and their powerful abilities in the market, as well as the failure on the part of the wool growers to unify and collaborate effectively. All of this is a matter of record, although few have studied these things. All they care about is declaring Brown a business failure, and that ipso facto his failure drove him into the desperate quest for "success" as a liberator. This thesis is nonsense and easily set aside.

Cervin further misses the date of Brown's vow to oppose slavery by a decade, setting it in 1847, instead of 1837, after the shooting of abolitionist Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois. Far worse, he totally misrepresents Brown's intention for the 1859 raid as to "agitate the white slave-owning population, and give the courage for slaves to rise up, kill their masters in their beds and join Brown on a crusade to stomp out slavery." What is Cervin's source for this claim? It sounds like he used the same source that most northern journalists used in 1859--the slavemasters of Virginia! The fact is that John Brown NEVER planned for a general insurrection and the LAST thing that he wanted was a widespread bloodletting of slave masters. Killing slave masters in their beds may have been the Nat Turner strategy (and I'm not saying Nat Turner was not justified from his standpoint in doing so), but it definitely was not what Brown intended. His campaign was by all accounts a minimalist effort with respect to violence. He wanted to operate primarily clandestinely and lead off enslaved people, fighting only when necessary, and always using the recourse to retreat and hide in small cadres within the mountain system that stretched deep into the South. Cervin's understanding of the raid is seriously flawed and demonstrates that he is not working with facts but rather with imagination and misinformation himself.

Further, Cervin writes that "Brown was a man blunted by contradictions." I have studied Brown for years and have written two books on his life and I am not yet done studying his life. Yet I have never seen the "contradictions" or "complexity" that are often attributed to him. Brown was not conflicted or troubled by contradictions. He contradicted the cultural and social norms of his time; he contradicted the religious hypocrisy of the white church; he contradicted the perceived "right" of the wealthy and powerful to dominate the weak and helpless; he contradicted the "liberals" of his day by exposing them as "talk only" hypocrites. Yet he was firm and undivided in his efforts. Even in earlier days, when he hoped to become a financially successful businessman, it is clear that his Puritan heart and mind were determined to use that wealth to fund anti-slavery efforts. When his business life waned and he reached middle age, the extremities of the nation's condition as well as the dire problems faced by his family in Kansas pulled him into the heart of the militant struggle. There are no contradictions in the man. He is simple to understand if one correctly reads his letters and the witness of his record.

In all fairness to Cervin, he is not hostile toward Brown, and seems to forgive and even credit him for his devotion to fighting slavery at the end of the article:

His actions caused others to reevaluate theirs. According to Virginia law, Brown was guilty of treason. But moral law may have reached a different conclusion. . . . . At the very least, John Brown stood and fought for something he fully believed in to help those who could not help themselves. The very least we can do, as mindful citizens of planet Earth, is to stand up and be counted. Right or wrong, Brown put his life on the line. . . . Talk may be cheap, but inaction can be fatal.
This is a generous conclusion, given the preceding errors in detail and presentation. Yet Cervin's work as a journalist is wanting in this case, and it is this lack of care in factgs that has often hurt Brown in popular culture. When we start getting our facts straight about the man who lived, we may also start to understand the importance of his presence on the landscape of the antebellum era, as well as the dimensions of meaning and importance that he represents beyond the hackneyed notion of a wild-eyed, conflicted, and ill-prepared fanatic.

Louis DeCaro Jr.

Michael Cervin's article may be found at http://www.visionmagazine.com/archives/0907/Culture.html

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

John Brown Recognized in Springfield, Massachusetts
Sy Becker (WWLP.com, Springfield, Mass.), July 1, 2009

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - A major figure in the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War has a Springfield connection.

John Brown will became a permanent fixture in the Civil War era exhibit at Springfield's new history museum.

Museum director Guy McLain told 22News that Brown lived in Springfield during the 1840s and left a lasting legacy with the African-American church community.

"St. John's Congregational Church was named after John Brown, and the connection goes back to John Brown in the 1840s and 50s," said McLain.

Dora Robinson of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Communit Center told 22News, "Our children, the citizens of Springfield, members of the St. John's Congregational Church really know about his work as an abolitionist, the time he spent in Springfield."

The exhibit is made possible by a Hampden Bank gift.
John Brown memorial to reopen to public in Akron, Ohio
Katie Byard. Akron [Ohio] Beacon Journal on-line (July 1, 2009)
A monument honoring a man hailed as a hero by some and branded as a terrorist by others is tucked inside the Akron Zoo. This holiday weekend the public will have a rare chance to view the modest sandstone pillar commemorating famed abolitionist John Brown, who lived in Akron.
The free, guided tours are part of a series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Brown's failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va., in 1859.

The monument, which will turn 100 next year, is in a rugged, wooded area of the zoo previously not open to the public. City officials and others long have talked about moving the memorial to a more visible, accessible location, but the monument has stayed put. While the memorial is virtually hidden, ''we get a steady stream of inquiries about it,'' said David Lieberth, the city's deputy mayor and a local history buff. ''He was Akron's best-known citizen internationally before LeBron James.''

In preparation for the memorial tours, zoo and city workers have installed a gravel access road and have cleared brush. Brown put Harpers Ferry on the map when he and his followers raided the arsenal Oct. 16, 1859 — in hopes of seizing weapons and leading slaves in a rebellion. At least four civilians, including the town mayor, were among the fatalities Brown was executed by hanging less than two months later, on Dec. 2. Church bells tolled in Akron and Hudson, where Brown grew up, at his death. The raid and Brown's execution helped to spark the Civil War, some historians say.

''Without him challenging the institution of slavery,'' Lieberth said, ''things may not have materialized as quickly as they did after his death. ''What is still troubling about him is that he did murder people in his cause,'' said Lieberth, who will talk about Brown during the tours. ''He saw himself as a warrior.''

In 1910, the German-American Alliance erected the pillar on land that would become Perkins Woods Park. The area is not far from Brown's former home, on Diagonal Road, where he lived during the 1840s and 1850s and raised sheep for Col. Simon Perkins, of Akron's founding family.
The memorial's centerpiece is a sandstone column salvaged from the Summit County Courthouse that was razed in 1905. Long gone is the bronze eagle that perched on the sphere that sits atop the pillar. Why were German immigrants moved to memorialize a former resident of Akron? ''The Germans take interest in everything in their adopted country,'' an alliance official said in a 1910 Beacon Journal article about the Aug. 21 dedication. ''Nothing had been done to preserve the memory of John Brown.'' the official said, ''and we, the Germans, felt it was our duty to take some step . . . .''

In 1938, a group called the Negro 25 Year Club added a 30-foot-diameter stone bench — surrounding the pillar — and a marker that includes an image of Brown. The marker declares, ''He died to set his brother free. His soul goes marching on.'' Vandals carved named names in the pillar long ago — before the zoo extended its fence several years ago to include the memorial. ''That secured it from any further vandalism,'' Lieberth said. Trouble is, he said, ''it has been closed from public view.'' Lieberth said moving the monument would cost about $100,000. That's not a large sum, he acknowledged, but moving it is one thing and finding the right home is another, he said.

A committee of city officials and community members recommended the monument be moved to city-owned land on the corner at Cedar and Maple streets and Rhodes Avenue. Committee members envisioned an organization partnering with the city and erecting a nearby building on the land, part of which could be used as a visitor information center. More recently, Lieberth, said, officials with the Summit County Historical Society have talked about relocating the memorial to property adjacent to the John Brown home. The historical society maintains the home. If the memorial were outside the Brown home, society Executive Director Paula Moran said, visitors could view it without paying admission — as they would have to at the zoo. The home could serve it as a visitor center.

Regardless of one how feels about Brown, Moran said, ''let's acknowledge Akron's historic role and connection to the abolition of slavery.''

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or mail to: kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com