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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, August 29, 2012

News and Views--

Grave Marker of John Brown's Son is Recovered

Owen Brown's grave stone:
recovered and secure
To my knowledge, the first journalist to break the news of the recovery of Owen Brown's grave marker was Karin Bugge of the Altadena Patch.  Her report, dated August 24, notes that Paul Ayers of the organization, Save Altadena Trails, has acknowledged the simple gravestone has been found after having disappeared in 2004.  Owen Brown, one of the surviving Harper's Ferry raiders and third son of John Brown (born 1824) died in 1889, and his burial site on "Little Round Top" overlooks the city of Altadena, California.  According to Bugge's report, the disappearance of the grave stone was part of a controversy between the present owner of the land where Brown's body is interred and trail advocacy groups.  This conflict was well known, even to us on the east coast, who were dismayed to hear reports about the inaccessibility of the site due to the disagreeable position of the land owner--although it has never been made clear whether this man's scruples are antagonistic to Brown, or simply hostile toward people walking on his property.  Not having much information, we have assumed that this man removed the stone, and it was feared that it had been destroyed.  Whether or not this is what happened, we are happy to learn that the grave stone was found by a local man and his son and is secure.  According to Bugge, the Save Altadena’s Trails group intends "to 'take all necessary legal and logistical steps necessary to restore the grave stone to its rightful place.'"

Source: Karin Bugge, "Owen Brown's Grave Marker Has Been Found,"Altadena Patch (24 Aug.2012)

The Quindaro Remembrance
The Statue at Quindaro:
"Erected to the Memory of John
Brown By A Grateful People"

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS--According to a number of reports, the Old Quindaro Museum and Information Center, Inc., in Kansas City was scheduled to host a John Brown Statue 101 year anniversary and recognition event this past Saturday, August 25.  According to Bettse Folsom of the Greater Kansas City Examiner, the museum's coordinator, Jesse Hope, spoke of the Old Quindaro Museum as offering information about families like his own--many of them being descendants of formerly enslaved blacks who still reside around the Quindaro community.  Folsom reports that Hope "wrote a book entitled Quindaro," and the museum is recognized by the National Park Service "Underground Railroad Freedom Act" of March 16, 2012.

The recognition event reportedly was to feature musical artists well-known in the Blues circuit, and a "Gospel Hour" held "in remembrance of our ancestors who found freedom [and to] witness it through song and praise." Hope said their ancestors thanked God as they looked back over the Missouri River at the land of their enslavement.  The Old Quindaro Museum has a website at http://www.oldquindaro.org/.


Elijah Lovejoy and John Brown

Historian and author Brian Dunphy recently published an article in Alton (Illinois) Telegraph about the historical link between antislavery editor Elijah Lovejoy and John Brown.  Dunphy is the author of Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois. It is most interesting that Dunphy's article recounts the Lovejoy-Brown link in an online publication based in the very town where Lovejoy was killed while defending his printing press in 1837.  Lovejoy, a "New School" Presbyterian minister, devoted his life to writing against slavery, and was persecuted for his radical stance.  After a number of his printing presses were thrown into the water by racist mobs, Lovejoy took his final stand in a warehouse.  Much to the dismay of William Lloyd Garrison and other non-violent abolitionists, however, Lovejoy had armed himself and actually died in the exchange of gun fire against the mob.  Students of Brown's life are quite familiar with the impact that Lovejoy's death had upon the strongly independent Ohio abolitionist, and while Garrison and others expressed dismay and disappointment in Lovejoy, Brown saw him as a virtuous figure and martyr for the antislavery cause.  A prayer meeting convened in Brown's town of Hudson, Ohio, became the famous occasion of the abolitionist's public oath to fight slavery--a promise he fulfilled in ever increasing measures over the next twenty-two years.  Dunphy does a nice job of recapping Brown's life, tracing Brown's development in Springfield, Massachusetts and finally as a Kansas guerilla.  He recounts Brown's role in the Pottawatomie killings without indulging in the usual claptrap about "terrorism."  While Dunphy conveys the questionable but popular notion that Brown intended to take the weapons from the Harper's Ferry armory, nevertheless he provides a neat, concise and thoughtful sketch of Brown's life flowing out of the Lovejoy moment.
Brown as Union Man--
Black Painter David Bustill
Bowser's 1865 Portrait
(Bridgman Art Library,
Philadelphia History Museum

"Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859," Dunphy concludes, pointing out that African American churches throughout the North designated it as "Martyr's Day," holding memorial services on behalf of Brown and his captured raiders.  In fact, "Martyr's Day" was a prominent day of remembrance in the black community well into the early 20th century.  Fortunately, the development of black history and the growth of black scholarship has allowed the African American community more substantial celebration of black history, and a rich history of black heroes and martyrs in their own right.  That Brown is more marginal to black consciousness and liberation activity 150 years later is not a mark of digression, but rather of progress.  Yet we should not fail to remember that in 1859, Brown stood shoulder to shoulder with black people as a liberation figure in the community--and he would in a sense link seminal black freedom fighters like Nat Turner with later activists in the post-Reconstruction era, when African Americans found themselves betrayed and once more locked in mortal struggle against white supremacy.  Brown was a conscious figure on the horizon of memory for blacks fleeing west from klan terrorism and other white supremacist assaults after the fall of Reconstruction. Despite the diminishment of John Brown in the popular memory of African Americans, he is not forgotten nor unappreciated in the annals of the struggle for justice against white supremacy.  Indeed, for the most part, it is still the appreciative consensus of the black community that offsets the prejudiced and unsympathetic voice that often characterizes the popular view among whites, who see him as a terrorist and trouble maker. 

Dunphy nicely concludes that the "victory of the North in the Civil War accomplished what John Brown couldn’t — the destruction of slavery. His soul indeed marched on with the victorious Union troops!"  This is probably no more true than of the noble African American men in blue who fought for the freedom of their own people, while so many whites were only fighting for the Union.  In a real sense, these were the Old Man's soldiers--the armed black warriors who proved him right in the final reel.  John Brown knew black men would fight valiantly for freedom if given the opportunity.  As history would have it, his tactical failure at Harper's Ferry did not prevent the grand vision from coming to reality.  When journalist William Phillips told him that blacks were too benign and inoffensive to fight for their freedom, the Old Man curtly marked his error.  "You have not studied them right,"Brown said, "and you have not studied them long enough. Human nature is the same everywhere."  John Brown was heavily influenced by the abolitionists, just as he was inspired by Lovejoy.  But unlike many of the white abolitionists, Brown had "studied" black people as people.  In contrast to southern propaganda, he knew that they were neither willing servants nor contented wards of their oppressors.  Yet in contrast to the prejudiced assumptions of the northern white man, he knew that black people--if given the opportunity and arms--would fight valiantly.  

He did not live to see it, but he was right.

See: John J. Dunphy, "Lovejoy’s murder led to John Brown’s war against slavery," The Telegraph [Alton, Ill.], 24 Aug. 2012.

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