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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, 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.

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