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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, November 29, 2009

Why I Don't Think John Brown Should be Pardoned

I have recently read on a blog called Sweet Muse, an article discussing the new effort to get John Brown pardoned by the President of the United States. According to the blog Sweet Muse, my brother biographer of Brown, David S. Reynolds, the author of the notable work, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights (Knopf), is urging people to petition President Obama to pardon our man Brown posthumously. I understand that Dr. Reynolds is also calling for the Governor of Virginia to do the same.

According to Sweet Muse, Dr. Reynolds expressed his views at a recent presentation in Springfield, Massachusetts, saying: "There are compelling reasons for the pardon. Far from the actions of a misled fanatic, his plan made sense. He knew that in the West Indies mountain-based groups of blacks had driven major European powers from their islands. Similarly, he wanted to use Appalachian hideouts as attack bases for destabilizing Southern slavery."

Dr. Reynolds has added his name and comments to a sprouting list of petitioners who agree. The petition, "Pardon Abolitionist John Brown," is on-line with under fifty signatures as of this writing. "I urgereaders to Google ‘Pardon John Brown' and add their names to the on line petition demanding a pardon of the man who willingly gave his life for the emancipation of four million enslaved blacks," he concluded.

Although I respect David Reynolds immensely and applaud his positive and powerful contribution to the literature on John Brown, I find myself inclined now--almost on the eve of the sesquicentennial of his execution--to disagree. I do not think that Brown should be pardoned for a number of reasons.

First, the reason and purpose for which Brown died was the struggle for black freedom and justice for the disenfranchised, oppressed slave. Those who would seek a pardon for John Brown are putting the cart before the horse, as the saying goes. John Brown would not want to be pardoned if the African people of the United States were still owed both an apology and/or some form of reparations from both the federal government as well as individual states that sustained slavery, and then the descendants of slave holders whose family estates were enriched by stolen black labor.

It would be a mere and feeble gesture of sentimentalism to pardon John Brown when the United States government has never even issued an apology to the black people of this nation, whose ancestors were treated like animals and property by law of the land. As long as black people are fundamentally insulted by this nation, as long as the majority population pretends that slavery was an unfortunate parenthesis of ill-mannered behavior in an otherwise praiseworthy democracy, I doubt John Brown would want that government or its people to "pardon" him. Like Daniel the ancient Hebrew prophet and seer, Brown would say to the President, "Keep your pardon or give it to someone else."

This nation owes black people, if nothing else, a flagrant, official, and definitive apology. Until the U.S. government acknowledges its terrible guilt and crime against humanity in terms of the so-called "peculiar institution" as well as the suppression and extermination of Native Americans and other territorial abuses based on the lust of slave holder expansionism, then I say John Brown can wait. His soul is marching on and he's never asked for a pardon.

Secondly, there is something inherently problematic about looking to the federal or state government of Virginia to pardon John Brown when both are historically complicit in crimes against humanity. Who are Uncle Sam and the Old Dominion to be dispensing pardons to freedom-fighters like John Brown anyway? Given the fact that slavery was part of the U.S. constitution and that this government and its supreme court passed repressive, fascist laws pertaining to fugitive slaves and the Dred Scott Decision, asking federal and state governments to pardon Brown actually seems ludicrous. Indeed, the U.S. government and the State of Virginia should be petitioning to be pardoned by popular vote of African Americans. It would only be symbolic, but it would be more meaningful than if John Brown were pardoned by these governments.

Thirdly, I would not put President Obama on the spot by asking him to pardon John Brown. The man is deeply hated and despised by ultra-conservatives, some of whom are the descendants of slave masters, and some of whom are doubtless racists who loathe the idea of having a black man in the "White" House. President Obama had enough trouble running for the presidency without being badgered because of associations he had with so-called radical folks, black and white. Why do this to the poor man? I don't think anyone doubts that Barack Obama probably holds John Brown, privately speaking, in high regard. But asking him to take such a step would unnecessarily draw him under fire, and he's got enough challenges dealing with the inherent racism of so much (not all!) of the anti-Obama movement in this country without getting bogged down in a battle over a symbolic and fairly meaningless effort on behalf of John Brown. The poor guy couldn't even address the problem of constabulary racism this year without having white conservatives jumping up and down in a rage. This is our first black president. Be nice to him.

Lastly, to pardon John Brown would rob him of the moral-historical context of his self-sacrifice. To put it by way of illustration, I would no more want John Brown to be pardoned by Uncle Sam or the State of Virginia than I would have wanted Constantine to pardon St. Paul, who was beheaded by that pig Nero. The force and integrity of St. Paul's martyrdom was his quintessential innocence over against the guilt and perversion of the emperor who ordered his execution. The same applies to John Brown and 19th century U.S. politics. To pardon him today would be like cutting him away from the moral-historical fabric in which his life and death had meaning. There is a sense in which John Brown is only John Brown as a man found guilty and condemned by what he called "this slave nation."

John Brown was not bothered by the fact of dying at the hands of a guilty government. He did not care for the judgment of the nation or Virginia, only the judgment of God. As a believer in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and the evangelical and Reformed faith, John Brown had all the pardon he wanted from the Great Judgment Seat of Eternity. John Brown's legacy is bigger than the U.S. government's legacy, which is only political and self-serving to the rich and powerful of this land, something that Brown himself declared in his final statement to the court. Brown's legacy is likewise bigger than that of the Old Dominion, which is filled with the bones of slaves and the fools who would rather have their sons die to keep slavery than set their slaves free. John Brown is an internationally loved and regarded revolutionary freedom figure. John Brown is loved today and has been loved down through the years, and he will be embraced by oppressed people and freedom fighters as long as this fallen world continues to produce oppressors and oppression.

John Brown does not need a pardon. He is more than pardoned by the people who love freedom and hate oppression. What activist Yuri Kochiyama once wrote about Malcolm X can likewise be said of John Brown: he is both epic and epoch in person. His single life and sacrifice defies stone monuments and memorials; if he had a postage stamp or a great stone temple in Washington, D.C., it would likely mean he was little more than a political compromiser and creature of the wealthy (by the way, Malcolm X's postage stamp was not only poorly done, but it illustrates the very point I'm making here: he would hardly have cared if the U.S. Post Office put him on a stamp anyway, and in putting him on a stamp, he was "mainstreamed" and deprived of his revolutionary political identity). The fact that Brown's greatest memorial is a humble farmhouse nearly on the northern border of the U.S.A. (Lake Placid, N.Y.], overlooked and disregarded by most, marks him as an authentically epic figure in human history. The fact that he lived and died fighting slavery in the context of a nation that was flagrantly racist and unjust makes him the standard-bearer of slavery's antithesis in his era.

Leave him to live and die in that era. Let him hang, despised and condemned, on that Virginia gallows. Pardon him and you will strip him of his victory. Take away his "guilt" by means of a governmental pardon and you will make him no better, no more valid, no more appreciated. The bigots, racists, and snobs who hate him will not suddenly embrace him. We who love him will not love him any more for Uncle Sam's pardon.

Do not pardon John Brown, nor seek to have him pardoned. Let him be, ever and always, a martyr--a witness for the oppressed! His Soul Goes Marching On!

Notable Response, Greg Artzner, Nov. 30, 2009

Lou, I absolutely agree with you.

The way I see it, if the larger truth were told Brown was convicted
and condemned not for treason and murder but for interference. If he
had actually done something for which he should have been convicted
and executed, a pardon would seem appropriate. But since what he did
was, in my humble opinion, the only thing he COULD do and something
that desperately needed doing–as he said, "not wrong, but right,"–a
pardon is the wrong thing to do.

I would be surprised given his political savvy and the current
political climate if Obama would do it or even consider it. He needs
those southern Democrats too much, the ones who use John Brown as a
cuss word.

But for the larger moral and philosophical reasons I hope he doesn't.

I'm with you.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Get Your History Straight: A Reply to Coach Thompson of Fort Thomas, Kentucky

I do not usually post responses to letters published in newspapers about Brown, but I read one today on the website, Cincinnati.com, that merits a firm rejoinder. The letter, written by Mr. Keith Thompson, apparently a gymnastic coach in Fort Thompson, Kentucky, was intended to argue against President Obama's determination to hold the "9/11" trials in a civilian court in New York City. Thompson wishes to argue that such legal proceedings will actually give the alleged murderers a "world stage" to justify their crimes.

While I do not necessarily agree with Coach Thompson, what drew my attention to his letter was the shabby connection he makes to the case of John Brown in Virginia as an illustration to prove his "point." The Kentucky coach thus writes:

"In 1859, a similar show trial took place in Virginia because southerners were convinced the trial would reveal John Brown as the murderous religious fanatic he, in fact, was. The South didn’t seem to understand that there were a lot of people outside the South who, though they may have deplored Brown’s violent tactics, nonetheless felt sympathy for his abolitionist cause. The trial gave a voice to anti-Southern sentiment in the North and was one of the main causes of the Civil War."

If my memory serves me correctly, high school coaches usually made the worst social studies and U.S. history teachers, so I suppose Coach Thompson's "history lesson" is confirmation of the fact. Perhaps he needs to learn a few things, as follows:

1. First, despite the North's general sympathy for Brown once he fell into the hands of the South, the truth is that most northerners DID NOT feel sympathy for the abolitionist cause. Mr. Thompson does not understand U.S. history or culture in the 19th century. Most northerners disliked abolitionists and viewed them as trouble-makers. Most northerners were for free labor and disliked slavery, but they disdained black people as inferiors and did not want to live near them or have them take jobs from white laborers. Abolitionists were a hated minority because their views were considered radical, especially in major cities like New York and Philadelphia, but certainly in most places in the North, with some exceptions (northeastern Ohio, for one).

Secondly, Coach Thompson, what Brown's trial triggered was a kind of "last straw" effect with the North because they were tired of the extent to which southern politicians had bullied the North, while northern politicians like the moderate Lincoln bent over backwards to beg the South not to secede. I recommend Mr. Thompson to read the diary of New Yorker George Templeton Strong, who was no admirer of Brown; but he expressed the opinion that northerners were tired of begging the South on their knees. People like Mr. Thompson have forgotten that the South really dominated and bullied this nation throughout most of the first half of the 19th century and pretty much got their way (Missouri Compromise, then Fugitive Slave Law, then Dred Scott, then Popular Sovereignty), and most of the presidents prior to Lincoln were slaveholders. How do you think northerners felt when a southern politician had the audacity to literally beat a northern politician nearly to death in the Senate chamber? The South was out of control and determined to have its way, and despite the North's genuine mediocrity toward racial justice, and Lincoln's willingness even to let the South keep its slaves if they stayed in the Union, southerners still imagined that the North was an entire region of John Browns--something far from the truth. Basically the South's leadership and propagandists were paranoid and beyond compromising. They had secession fever and John Brown gave them good enough reason to jump out of the Union window and be done with it.

There are two reasons for northern sympathy for Brown. The first, as I've suggested, was based on the way Brown's treatment by Virginia fairly reflected the way the South dealt with any political effort that disagreed with their agenda: they cried murder, threw a fit, and then did whatever they pleased, like some spoiled child. After the way the State of Virginia rushed Brown to the gallows, no wonder the North wanted to stick it to the South. Secondly, Brown's court room testimony and the publication of his letters revealed him as a man of exceptional character, a loving husband and father, a witness of great religious substance, and one with an authentic witness, even to the point of dying for his anti-slavery convictions. Neither Muslim terrorist nor "home-grown" U.S. terrorists have ever manifested such an expansive range of moral, spiritual, social, and political wisdom in the body of their words and writings, nor have they been able to adequately demonstrate, as did John Brown, how one's life and death may link the Christian religion at its best with the anti-slavery cause. Muslims as a rule have no significant anti-slavery movement to speak of; their most extreme and aberrant fanatics, turning to terrorism as "witness," do so with the intention of earning a bloody ticket to paradise. Some darkened minds might find them equally inspiring, but clearly their ruthless actions have not had the same depth and breadth of positive influence in their world or our own. In contrast, Brown's letters shut the mouths of pro-slavery northerners and overwhelmed moderate Republicans. The flock of freedom around the world heard the shepherd's voice in John Brown's words and they saluted him as a result. Back in the U.S.A., all of candidate Abraham Lincoln's eloquent force in 1860 could not hold back the tidal wave of John Brown's holistic witness from overwhelming the North and washing over the South like acid truth. Neither the North nor the South heard the voice of God in John Brown's words the way a child "hears" the sound of the ocean by pressing a seashell to her ear. To the contrary: John Brown brought northerners and southerners to the very coastline where every nation's moral landscape must inevitably lead--and like a prophet he showed them the coming storm. That the selfish leadership of the South preferred the storm's deadly outcome to surrendering their slaves is a reflection of their own selfish and hard-hearted nature, not that of John Brown.

John Brown was not a murderer nor a religious fanatic. To be sure, he led in the killing of five pro-slavery thugs in Kansas in May 1856, and the reason he did so was because they were conspiring with pro-slavery terrorists to kill or drive out the Browns and other anti-slavery neighbors with violence. What Brown did was arguably counter-terrorism. Besides, the Kansas territory was already inflamed by pro-slavery thugs and there was no territorial or federal police to protect free state people who were being terrorized by pro-slavery thugs. Most of the free state settlers welcomed Brown's bloody strike because he was the only one with enough courage to stand up to terrorism and "give it" as hard as free state people were "getting it."

It amazes me that some people insist on seeing Brown as a terrorist, when living in this era, one might rather expect sensible people to make the logical connection with Brown as a counter-terrorist. He and the others who supported him were men simply protecting their families and freedoms in the absence of real democracy and the actual injustice or impotency of lawmen. Besides, the entire system of slavery itself was based on terror--imagine a system that allowed slave masters even to kill their "property" without any penalty; imagine a system that declared human beings sub-standard because of their "race." Imagine a society whose courts sanctioned hunting human beings down, tearing them from their loved ones, forcing them to work for free, and even controlling their bodies. What kind of a barbaric society was that? Not Nazi Germany. No, it was called the good old U.S.A. in the antebellum era, for the entire nation supported this wickedness by its laws, and it was practiced with lust and passion by the slave holders of the South. In light of the fact that these atrocities were committed in Coach Thompson's own state of Kentucky, perhaps by some of his own ancestors, or the ancestors of some of his countrymen, it strikes me somewhat empty to hear him calling John Brown a "murderer."

Finally, Coach Thompson, John Brown was not a "religious fanatic." In fact, his theology and biblical understanding were pretty much the same as that famously glorified traitor, Thomas "Stonewall"Jackson, who was an evangelical Calvinist like Brown. Brown and Jackson were pretty similar in their theological outlook, yet I doubt the Kentucky Coach would call General Jackson a religious fanatic, even though he used his Bible to justify betraying his government, defend a system of rape and stolen labor, and lead vast numbers of men to their deaths in a war for flesh disguised as a war for freedom. "States' rights"? Gimme a break. That's about as impressive as Jefferson Davis in a dress (which is how he was attired when he was apprehended when his "independence movement" was finally put down by Mr. Lincoln's army).

John Brown was a heroic figure and to compare him to serial-killing, anti-Christian "religious" fanatics who have no conception of the Golden Rule, nor any regard for democracy is outrageously ill-studied. Maybe the Kentucky Coach needs a little coaching in the history section of the local library.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

John Brown 150 Years Later: A Voice from Nigeria
by Owei Lakemfa

“Where liberty draws not the blood out of slavery, slavery draws the blood out of liberty”--Walt Whitman

THERE were lots of revolts to free black slaves in the United States. There was Denmark Vesey who in 1822 with 37 of his followers was hanged for planning a revolt. As he went before the hangman Vesey told the other convicts: “Do not open your lips! Die silent as you see me do”. Another famous revolt was on August 21, 1830. Led by Nat Turner, 61 Whites were killed while the Whites killed over 120 slaves in retaliation and arrested hundreds.Turner and 16 Blacks were hanged but they had spread terror.

John Brown, a White abolitionist saw Turner as a hero. Born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800, Brown was a deeply religious man who felt all human beings are God’s children, so none should be enslaved. In 1853, the indigenous Indians were forced out of what became Nebraska and Kansas. Slave owners fought to make Kansas a slave territory while the abolitionist “Free Soilers” wanted it free of the evil. The next year, pro and anti-slavery Americans poured into Kansas to contest the territory. Amongst them were Brown and his five sons. Armed clashes occurred and on May 21,1856, a pro-slavery force sacked Lawrence, an anti-slavery strong hold burning, looting and killing. Three days later, Brown and his sons retaliated, wiping out pro-slavers at Dutch Henry Crossing. The Kansas civil war was on. Kansas had two constitutions, two governors and two governments as both sides battled for the soul of the state.

But Brown did not think the battles in Kansas would win the war against slavery. He set his sight on a major plan to liberate slaves. In 1847 he had told the famous former slave, Frederick Douglas that “he had no better use of his life than to lay it down in the cause of the slave”. His plan was to set up a guerilla-type movement of armed men in the Blue Ridge Mountains which he said God had “placed here for the emancipation of the Negro race”. From this strong hold he planned to make forays into the South liberating slaves or encouraging them to take refuge in the mountain sanctuary. He hoped that by making slaves “insecure property”, slavery will ultimately become worthless property.

In January 1857, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott, a Black man, ruled by a 7-2 decision that Scot is not a citizen but a slave and that Blacks are inferior beings who were enslaved in their own interest. That slaves are not and cannot become part of the American people and that they “had no rights which a White man was bound to respect”. This judgment further fired Brown’s resolve to end slavery. That year, he began to recruit fighters for his guerrilla movement.

In 1859, Brown rented a farm near Harpers Ferry, Virginia having decided to attack and seize the federal arsenal in the city which usually stored 100,000 to 200,000 rifles. He believed that seizing the town and the rifles would draw the slaves to his side and a general struggle against slavery would ensue. On the night of Sunday October 16, 1859, Brown and 21followers, including five Black men captured both the arsenal the town. But rather than move out immediately, he decided to dialogue with the town inhabitants. In process, 1,500 pro-slavery militia men from the town and adjoining towns surrounded Brown and his men. The 23 liberators fought heroically all night and could not be defeated by so large a militia.

It was no surprise as Brown had a reputation of defeating larger groups such as leading 30 men to subdue a militia of 400 from Missouri led by General Read.
Next morning, a 100 strong contingent of marines led by Robert Lee, later a famous General, attacked and Brown was defeated. Nine of his followers, including two of his sons were killed, seven escaped while seven were captured; three of them, including Brown were injured.

Brown’s trial was legal lynching. It took place within one week of his capture giving him no time to organise a strong legal team. The jury was made up of farmers, including slave owners. Brown’s injuries were so serious that he had to be brought to court in a stretcher. He told the court that “one man and God can overturn the universe”.
On being sentenced to death, Brown told the jury: “I see a book kissed here which is the Bible, and which teaches me all things; that I would have men do unto me, so must I do unto them. I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I fought for the poor; and I say I was right”.

While awaiting execution, Brown said :“I am quite cheerful in view of my approaching end, being fully persuaded that I am worth inconceivably more to hang than for any other person”. On December 2, 1859 the day of Brown’s hanging, the famous American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said Brown would “make the gallows glorious like the cross”.

As he was being led to the gallows, Brown slipped a note into the hands of a fellow prisoner which read: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood, I had, as now think, vainly flattered myself that without much bloodshed it might be done”. John Brown had struck severe blows against slavery, he had shamed his accusers and persecutors who might have thought he would beg for his life. He went to the gallows head held high and walked into martyrdom. His adversaries are forgotten in history but John Brown’s saintly accomplishments will never die.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Paul Finkelman Returns to Akron for John Brown Sesquicentennial

On the day of his execution, bells rang and flags flew at half-staff in Akron, the courts adjourned and stores closed, according to city officials. That night “a great indignation meeting” took place in Empire Hall, and speeches were made by Akron’s leading citizens.

Historian Paul Finkelman will deliver remarks at the 11 a.m. service. Finkelman, the William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School is the author of Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown (Ohio University Press, 2005) and His Soul Goes Marching On — Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid (University Press of Virginia, 1995). Finkelman is an expert on the legal history of slavery and constitutional law, according to city officials. This marks a return to Akron for Finkelman, who held the John F. Seiberling endowed chair at The University of Akron School of Law in 1998 and 1999.

Akron’s First Presbyterian 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, according to city officials. Pastor the Rev. Mark Ruppert will deliver an invocation, and the history of the church will be offered by the church’s historian, Edie English. The ensemble Exalting Him will perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Negro National Anthem,” and “Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow,” reportedly Brown’s favorite hymn. Area vocalist Carla Davis will close the ceremony with the song first created in memory of Brown — “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Accompaniment will be provided by church organist Heidi Guttermuth.

During this 150th anniversary year of Harpers Ferry, the community has collaborated in many ways to mark the events that led to what many believe was the starting point for the U.S. Civil War — the failed raid, which Brown thought might inspire African slaves to ignite an uprising against their slave-owners.

Presentations will include the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s exhibit, continuing through Dec. 31, of historical artifacts at the Special Collections Division of the Main Library, 60 S. High St. The Akron Art Museum, located at 1 S. High St., also is presenting selections from Jacob Lawrence’s The Legend of John Brown through Feb. 14. This series of screen prints presents specific incidents in Brown’s life.

The Summit County Historical Society will open the John Brown Home at the corner of Copley and Diagonal roads in West Akron Dec. 2 from 3 to 6 p.m. Admission is free. Exhibits describe the life of Brown and his family in Akron.

“John Brown is Akron’s nationally known link to the movement to end slavery,” Plusquellic said. “All of these events, performances and exhibits recall a rich era in our history. 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.”

Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800, raised in Hudson and apprenticed in Kent (then called Franklin Mills). He lived in Akron during the decade preceding the Civil War. A breeder of sheep and an authority on wool, 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.

Brown’s religious convictions led him to oppose slavery. While working with Perkins, he remained an active abolitionist and regularly housed in his home slaves moving through the Underground Railroad. Brown believed that militant actions were the only way to end slavery. In the mid-1850s, he organized covert attacks in an attempt to liberate slaves and bring down the pro-slavery establishment. In 1859, with a company of 21 men, white and black, he led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now West Virginia). He was captured by Col. Robert E. Lee, of the U.S. Army, and hanged for treason Dec. 2, 1859.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Congress of Racial Equality Chairman to Lay Wreath at John Brown's Grave

NEW YORK-CORE Officials Mark the 150th Anniversary of John Brown's Execution

NEW YORK--CORE officials, Roy Innis (National Chairman), George Holmes (Executive Director) and Joe Lovece (Board Member), will take part in the 150th Anniversary of the execution of abolitionist John Brown on Saturday, December 5, 2009 at "John Brown Coming Home" in Lake Placid, NY where Brown and most of the Harper's Ferry raiders are buried.

Starting at 8:30 a.m. at the High Peaks Resort, located at 2384 Saranac Avenue in Lake Placid, some of the nation's most notable academics who specialize in John Brown, the Civil War, slavery in the time of Brown until today and the importance of activism will be taking part in a forum to discuss the events surrounding the Harper's Ferry Raid.

The forum will be followed by a march to the grave site and the laying of a wreath on Brown's grave led by Roy Innis, national chairman of CORE, with a gospel concert held in the evening

According to Hon. Roy Innis, "John Brown's contributions in ending slavery have not been properly recognized. Within two years of his death, the Civil War broke out. He was the spiritual inspiration of the Union Army as evidenced in the song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".

For more information visit:

Brian McLaughlin
Congress of Racial Equality -- CORE
New York, NY

Monday, November 23, 2009


John Brown Events in Philadelphia

Wednesday, December 2
Hamilton Auditorium, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Noon to 1 p.m., Free
In Memoriam: Horace Pippin's John Brown Going to His Hanging. This day marks the 150th anniversary of the hanging of John Brown, one of the most controversial and celebrated men of the nineteenth century, whose raid on Harpers Ferry and subsequent execution caused stirrings across the nation. Located at 118 N. Broad Street.

Wednesday, December 2
Charles Blockson Collection, Temple University,
2:00 - 4:00 p.m., Free
A Conversation on the Legacy of John Brown with Charles Blockson and Dr. Molefi Kete Asante.
Mr. Blockson will discuss his family's personal connection to John Brown and the Underground Railroad, as well as John Brown's relationship with the African American community more broadly. Dr. Asante will present "John Brown: An Authentic Hero of Liberty," wherein he will examine the reasons why most Americans have forgotten Brown's thoughts and deeds. Located in Sullivan Hall in the Berks Mall at Temple University.

Wednesday, December 2
Historical Society of Pennsylvania/Library Company of Philadelphia, 6 p.m., Free
"The Empty Coffin: John Brown and Philadelphia" - A Talk by Louis DeCaro, Jr.
After his death, John Brown's body traveled through Philadelphia. Worried about the possibility of riots in the streets, the mayor devised a plan in order to sneak Brown's body away safely. DeCaro's talk will allow us to learn this fascinating story and invite us to consider Brown's pivotal importance in the larger struggle for civil rights. Located at 1300 Locust Street.

Friday, December 4
Mitchell Auditorium, Bossone Building,
Drexel University, 6 p.m., Free
"John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights" - A Talk by David S. Reynolds
David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College New York. Reynolds book, John Brown, Abolitionist, is the winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award; winner of the Kansas State Book Award; finalist for the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship; listed among "The Outstanding Books of 2005" by the National Book Critics Circle; listed among "Top Picks" of "Notable Books of 2005" by the American Library Association; and noted as "the most widely reviewed book in America in major periodicals" for the period of April 19 - May 5, 2005 by Publishers' Lunch. The Bossone Building at Drexel University is located at Market Street between 31st and 32nd Streets.

Saturday, December 5
African American Museum of Philadelphia,
9:30 a.m., Free
John Brown for Educators and Students
Facilitated by Author David S. Reynolds
Join author David S. Reynolds to explore ways of bringing the John Brown story into the classroom. Located at 701 Arch Street.

Saturday, December 5
African American Museum of Philadelphia,
3:30 p.m., Free with admission
John Brown's Holy War - PBS Film
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents John Brown's Holy Way, produced and directed by Robert Kenner (Influenza 1918) and written by Ken Chowder. Located at 701 Arch Street.
[this documentary is NOT recommended by this blogger; it should be viewed with great reservation and is unreliable as to presentation, fact, and interpretation--LD]

John Brown in Philadelphia, a Cell Phone Tour
Using your cell phone, explore the Philadelphia events, places and people that are part of the John Brown story and the struggle over slavery in the home of America's largest northern free black community before the Civil War. To be launched by November 29 on: www.civilwarphilly.net/johnbrown. and www.civilwarphilly.net/cellphone/index.html. Contact: V. Chapman Smith, 215.606.0101, v.chapman-smith@nara.gov.

John Brown Remembered in the Town Where Was Executed

CHARLES TOWN, WEST VIRGINIA - Students at the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center are working on a project that will serve as the backdrop of a historic remembrance early next month. Ron Hartle, a carpentry instructor at the facility, said his students are building a scaffolding and coffin that will be used Dec. 2 as area residents commemorate the death of abolitionist John Brown.

The day will mark the 150th anniversary of Brown's hanging. His death came following a trial in Charles Town in 1869, in which he was found guilty of treason by the State of Virginia [the State of West Virginia was not yet created at the time of Brown's raid].

Brown and his followers had raided the town and government armory in Harpers Ferry in a move that was expected to become part of a larger slave liberation movement. During the raid, townspeople - including the local mayor - were killed, as were members of Brown's raiders. The October 1869 raid is now seen as key in the buildup to the Civil War, and numerous events have taken place in the area in remembrance of Brown's actions in recent months.

On Dec. 2, the remembrance will continue.

Hartle said his class, which consists of students ages 16 to 24 who hail from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, is basing construction efforts on drawings made during the time period that show the gallows from which Brown was hanged.

Hartle said his students are undertaking the project in sections so that the scaffolding can be transported to the site of Brown's actual hanging in downtown Charles Town.

The scaffolding is slated to be completed by Thanksgiving, he said. The class plans to move the project to the location on Samuel Street where Brown was hanged early the following week, with the commemoration of his hanging slated to take place Dec. 2.

That day, members of the Jefferson County National Association for the Advancemnt of Colored People, along with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, will host an event to remember Brown's death.

The event is slated to feature a John Brown re-enactor and others who will retrace the footsteps that residents took on that historic day, said Jefferson County Commissioner Lyn Widmyer, a member of the local NAACP.

"There will be a John Brown re-enactor. He'll be brought out to the courthouse steps, the final verdict will be read, and then he'll be put in a horse-drawn carriage atop a coffin, just as John Brown was," Widmyer said.

Other re-enactors are set to follow Brown on horseback, she said, adding that residents and visitors will be able to follow along on the march as well.

Alice Keesey Mecoy, one of Brown's descendents, is scheduled to make brief remarks once the group reaches the site of the original hanging, Widmyer said. A wreath laying is planned, she said, adding that the gallows will be used as a backdrop.

Widmyer said the event is expected to draw several hundred people, depending on the day's weather.

"This is an opportunity to really experience the event," she said.


A Note from Greg Artzner:

Thought you might appreciate the first testimonials to come in after our performances of "Sword of the Spirit" for the Harpers Ferry's Sesquicentennial Commemoration of John Brown's Raid.

For those of you unfamiliar with them, Larry Lawrence is one of the real John Brown fans, being the founder and chairman of The John Brown Society [New York]. When we talked briefly after the play, it was a four-way conversation with him, Norman Thomas Marshall, a wonderful actor who portrays Brown in his own one-act play, "John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom," and Louis DeCaro Jr., biographer, author of "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown, one of the best books about Brown ever written. Larry said, "This is a rare occasion; a gathering of probably the four most radical John Brown people in the country!"

Evan Carton is the author of another of my favorite Brown biographies, Patriotic Treason. He raised his hand to comment on the play just after highly emotional comments made by John & Mary Brown's great-great-great-granddaughter, Alice Keesey Mecoy. He said some of the things that he wrote here. Very gratifying and moving for us.

affectionately yours,

“...let our motto still be action, action,–as we have but one life to live.” –John Brown

A very lovely and touching work. The highlighting of Mary Brown in this performance is extremely important. She is too often neglected in John Brown circles. The huge sacrifices of the entire circle of people around John Brown would not have been possible without the basic love of justice expressed in the deepest manner conceivable by Mary Brown. She is a central part of the John Brown story. Thank you for bringing her to life. –Larry Lawrence, Chairman, The John Brown Society.

Greg Artzner's and Terry Leonino's "Sword of the Spirit" is more than a thoughtful, moving, and beautifully crafted and performed dramatization of the final days, political and spiritual reflections, and family relations of the abolitionist John Brown. It is a revelation of the man John Brown, and not just in his principled humanity but in his human connectedness, especially to his wife Mary, his partner in sacrifice and high aspiration. Brown's image in American history, forged largely by antagonists of his radical activism and even of his egalitarian goals, has been so much that of the isolated fanatic, marching to his own obsessive drumbeat, that it's hard even for those who know the falseness of this stereotype to escape its influence. Which is why the frank, meditative, defiant, affectionate, humorous, fervent, and weary man that Greg Artzner captures on the stage--a man at once extraordinary and ordinary--is such a revelation. And if John Brown stands so humanly revealed by "Sword of the Spirit," Mary Brown--typically dismissed as a mere subordinate to and victim of her husband's designs--is even more strikingly rescued from distortion and diminishment by Terry Leonino's rich portrayal of her dignity and recovery of her letters' strong voice. To confront the daunting challenges to justice that our new century poses will require all the encouragement and exemplars from the past that we can muster, including the John and Mary Brown who are returned to us in "Sword of the Spirit."
– Evan Carton, Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Author of Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Congress of Racial Equality Observes the 150th Anniversary of the Sacrifice of Abolitionist John Brown New York, NY Friday, November 20, 2009

Cornell scholar Margaret Washington, author of Sojourner Truth's America, will give the keynote address Saturday, December 5, 2009 at a symposium to explore the legacy and abolitionist John Brown held in Lake Placid, NY where he and most of the Harper's Ferry raiders are buried.

"A lot of attention has been given this year to the actions of John Brown and the abolitionists who supported him," said Naj Wikoff, coordinator of the 150th Commemoration of John Brown, "and not enough to the critical role that Black Americans played in setting the stage and forcing the issue of slavery on the national conscious. It was Free Blacks who took up Gerrit Smith's offer to leave the urban environment to the Adirondack wilderness in an attempt to create a new beginning; without them John Brown would never have moved here where his raid was planned."

"Brown understood and celebrated the courage of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, who risked their lives countless times to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom, and valued his friendship with Frederick Douglass. They, and the many who risked all to seek freedom through walking into the unknown with Federal laws requiring their return to slavery, created the climate that got Lincoln elected and set our nation on the path to war. We are starting our symposium with Professor Washington to underscore the importance of the contribution of Blacks in those treacherous days"

The symposium, "The Life and Legacy of John Brown," will be like no other held this year. Where many talk about slavery, the Lake Placid organizers are bringing Maria Suarez, who was sold into slavery -– in the United States -- as a 16 year-old, and Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, often goes underground into the slave trade that subjugates over 27 million worldwide, 50,000 in the US. Their goal is to put a face to slavery.

By the same token they have drawn people like Roy Innis, the national chairman of CORE, to lead a memorial service at John Brown's gravesite, people who have put their lives on the lines for the fight for civil rights. Author Russell Banks, whose novel Cloudsplitter launched a reappraisal of Brown, will moderate a panel that will examine our national relationship with violence and explore the question when, and if ever, is it an appropriate tool for social change with people like Bernardine Dorhn, a former member of the Weather Underground who was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List for ten years.

SUNY Plattsburg professor and director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion, will use excerpts from features and documentaries, to examine the broad context of racism in the time of Brown, while Brown's biographer Louis DeCaro, Jr., himself an ordained minister, will examine the role of faith in Brown's actions. In addition, activities include a full range of reenactments beginning with the arrival of John Brown's cortege at Westport, NY on Sunday December 6, its coming into Elizabethtown for the laying of John Brown's body in state at the Essex County Courthouse as it was 150 years ago, and its arrival at his farm by horse drawn wagon.

John Brown Coming Home is being organized by Lake Placid Essex County Visitors Bureau, John Brown Lives! and the New York State Archives Partnership Trust in cooperation with local history and cultural organizations. John Brown Coming Home is sponsored by the Visitor's Bureau, the Lake Placid Education Foundation and the New York Council of the Humanities* along with private contributions of cash and in-kind services. North Country Public Radio is the official Media sponsor.

For Interviews with presenters:

New York State Archives Partnership Trust
Robert Bullock, Executive Director

John Brown Lives!
Martha Swan, Director

Naj Wikoff
John Brown Coming Home
518-523-2445 ext. 108

Brian McLaughlin
Congress of Racial Equality -- CORE
New York, NY

Sunday, November 15, 2009

John Brown Remembered in Akron, Ohio

Akron, Ohio - Oct. 16, 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.

This man, who has been called both a martyr and a madman, invaded Harpers Ferry in 1859 with 21 recruits and one mission – bring down the federal armory of Harpers Ferry in Virginia and get ammunition to give slaves to help them rise up against their oppressors.

According to Leianne Heppner, interim executive director of the Summit County Historical Society, Brown has been considered one of the Akron's most famous residents in history. “John Brown spent majority of his life in Summit county and I think many people think of John Brown as the abolitionist who attacked Harpers Ferry and they don't realize that he grew up in their neighborhood,” Heppner explained.

Brown lived in Akron while he ran a sheep business with Simon Perkins for 10 years between 1844 and 1854. While he worked with Perkins, he took up residence caddy-corner from the Perkins' Stone Mansion in what is now known as the John Brown House. During his time in Akron his anti-slavery stance was not halted as Brown made connections with other abolitionists.
“He spent his extra time and extra money on the anti-slavery cause,” Heppner said. “He was meeting with individuals like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.”

According to Heppner, Brown did not hesitate from actively participating in the abolitionist movement, even before the raid, while he was in Akron. “There are also historical people who say they saw dark faces on the other side of the fence where John Brown lived and that he had individuals at his home here in Akron and it was well-known that he was transporting people on the Underground Railroad,” Heppner claimed.

John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry may have ended with him being hanged for his actions, but he has still been recognized as the man who ignited the spark that would later bring on the Civil War. To help Akron residents remember the man who has gone down in history as one of the most controversial and also revered figures, the Summit County Historical Society has been hosting open houses of the John Brown House since June. The next open house, which is free to the public will be held on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“Some people look at him as a martyr, others look at him as a madman, but in actuality he was a neighbor to many people in this area and it's significant that we remember him not just as a national figure but as a local resident,” Heppner said. “He did something about an issue he disagreed with and many people get upset because he killed people in the process, but the way I look at it is this man was willing to give his life to end something that he abhorred, which was slavery.”
Along with the John Brown events, the historical society is also offering tours of Simon Perkins' (John Brown's old business partner) Stone Mansion.
According to Heppner, these are ghost tours, so they are only for people who are 16-years-old and up. Visitors will get to learn about the history of the Perkins family, coupled with some ghostly tales and take part in a guided tour through the mansion in the dark. “It's a unique opportunity to see the house in a different light . . . or non-light,” Heppner said with a chuckle.

“We do emphasize the different family members who are known to haunt the house,” she added.
The next ghost tour will be on Friday, November 13th, with a book signing with the author of Ghosts of Zoar Ohio. Hour long ghost tours will begin at 7:30 p.m. The cost is $15 per person. All tours are by reservation only.

As the celebration of Brown's life continues through the season, there will also be an event focusing on the 150th Anniversary Commemoration of John Brown's Execution on Dec. 2. This will be held at the First Presbyterian Church in Akron at 11 a.m. the John Brown House will also be open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. More information on these events can be found on the Summit County Historical Society's Web site www.summithistory.org.

According to Heppner, these upcoming events the historical society will host may focus on the area's history, but these tales from the past are never a mundane experience. “I think that it would be great if people have an interest in their local history,” Heppner said. “The Summit County History Society has been in existence for 85 years, collecting the history of the individuals in our community and we would like people to join us in remembering them and also having a little fun in the mean time.”

Saturday, November 07, 2009

John Brown Family Descendant Celebrates Ancestry

John Brown’s descendants relived the raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va., during the event’s sesquicentennial on Oct. 16.

Mary Buster, who grew up in Osawatomie and lived here until she was 23, is a direct descendant of Brown. Brown’s half-sister, Florella Adair, is her great-great-grandmother.

Buster made the drive to West Virginia to participate in the 150-year observance of Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, which was a plan to spark a revolt of slaves in the area and to arm them with weapons that Brown planned to capture from a federal arsenal.

The plan failed, and Brown and his men made a long last stand in a firehouse. The sesquicentennial involved a reenactment of this violent event.

“I loved just the excitement of getting to be where it all happened,” Buster said. “I felt like I was standing on holy ground.”

She said Brown’s plan had been lost on her until this trip, when it finally made sense to her.

“(It helped) getting to hear it from the authors there and the people who were talking about John Brown,” she said. “It was an excellent plan. People say he was crazy to think he could do this, but if it hadn’t been for one or two accidents, it probably would have worked. He really thought it out.”

Months prior to the attack, Brown stayed with his men at the Kennedy farmhouse four miles north of Harpers Ferry. The farmstead is still standing today, and Buster said that was her favorite part of the trip.

“I got a personal tour by the man who owns the house, through the entire house,” she said, “including the room Brown and his men hid for the months leading up to the raid.”

Buster also encountered a group in possession of the last letters John and Mary Brown exchanged during their final hours.

“It shows the human side of John Brown,” she said. Her plan is to get the letters to Osawatomie to be displayed for next year’s Freedom Festival.

“It was amazing to be so far from home and still have people talk about John Brown all the time,” Buster said. “It’s obvious in that park that John Brown is viewed as a hero. Every African-American I met threw their arms around me and hugged me. It was wonderful. (They were) very positive toward the man and what he was trying to do, and that was very nice to see.”

During her three-day stay, she met descendents of Brown’s men, townspeople of Harpers Ferry and others whose lives were affected by the event in some way.

“I am extremely proud,” she said. “The more I read about John Brown and his sister Florella, the more I am proud to say I am related to them.”

Source: Brandon Steinert, Osawatomie Graphic (Nov. 4, 2009)