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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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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pop Culture--

Is John Brown the Next Story for Quentin Tarantino?

Michael West reports on Contactmusic.com that Quentin Tarantino is preparing a "follow-up to Django Unchained," and "almost has a script, which the prolific director has penned himself and plans to develop in 2014."  According to West, the upcoming project will be a western, which may or may not fit the Brown story, except for the Kansas episode.  "During the publicity tour for his last movie," West writes, "Tarantino spoke about making a movie about the abolitionist John Brown, treating him as mythic hero from a western standpoint."  This may be true, but it is also possible that Tarantino is looking at other projects, including an Australian cowboy film or an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel.

West reiterates Tarantino's enthusiastic words from a previous interview revealing his warm admiration for Brown and his desire to make a film about the abolitionist.  However, if I recall, Tarantino said he was thinking of doing this somewhat further in the future, perhaps in his later years, and might even consider playing the role of Brown himself.  It may be that the recent appearance of books and the latest accomplishment of the award-winning novelist James McBride has caused Tarantino to move the John Brown project to the front burner.

It remains to be seen whose John Brown film makes it to the screen first. There is no lack of talk on the subject, but it is hardly worth holding one's breath at this point.

Source: Michael West, "Is Quentin Tarantino's Movie About Abolitionist John Brown?" Contactmusic.com, 28 Nov. 2013

James McBride Wins National Book Award for His John Brown Novel

James McBride's The Good Lord Bird, which imagines a teenage slave joining abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, won the National Book Award for fiction Wednesday night.  The judges praised McBride for "a voice as comic and original as any we have heard since Mark Twain."

McBride, 56, who hadn't prepared an acceptance speech because he didn't expect to win against the likes of Thomas Pynchon, Jhumpa Lahiri and George Saunders, said, "They are fine writers. But it sure is nice to be here."

Source: Excerpted from Bob Minzesheimer, "James McBride wins National Book Award for fiction," USA Today, 21 Nov. 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Osawatomie Notebook--
Tribute to the "Old Man's" "Old Man," 
Owen Brown

Grady Atwater

John Brown’s father, Owen Brown, was a dedicated peaceful abolitionist who advocated that African-Americans deserved an equal opportunity for education and asserted that African Americans’ lack of civil rights and spiritual growth were being denied because of their lack of education.
Owen Brown, ca. 1830
(Hudson Library & Historical
Society, Hudson, Oh.

Owen Brown wrote a letter to the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society on April 27, 1837, in which he stated:
Resolved, that education lies at the foundation of elevation in civil and religious liberty, and that it is expedient that there should be a State Anti-Slavery Education Society formed, and that it be recommended to the county and town societies to form societies auxiliary to the State Anti-Slavery Society.
Owen Brown proceeded to list the reasons he believed the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society should form an Anti-Slavery Education Society, and pointed out that African-Americans were excluded from attending schools with European-American students.  “Public sentiment forbids them from their being schooled in common schools at the present, even when they are able to pay for their schooling,” he wrote.

He added the observation that when abolitionists attempted to organize schools for African-Americans, their efforts were met with legal and social opposition. He wrote: “Where schools have been set up at the expense and self-denial of individuals, in most cases they have met with great opposition; their expense has increased; their patience tried, and they have had the aid of but very few.”

African-Americans were largely denied access to formal education in the 1830s in both the North and the South, which was a means of enforcing the social stratification that worked to keep African-Americans legally and socially subservient to European-Americans. His proposal to work to provide formal education to African-Americans was a radical and revolutionary proposal in the 1830s, and he did not mince words when he pointed out the negative effects a lack of education had on African-Americans.

“For want of education, newspaper and periodical is in a manner lost; correspondence with each other is cut off, and much kind advice and instruction are lost, such as are necessary to regulate their conduct, make them good members of religious and civil society, and make them useful and happy neighbors, lessen their crimes, and raise their prospects for time and eternity,” he states.

Owen Brown was a Christian who believed that all people were equal in the eyes of God, and that all people deserved to be equal in American society regardless of their race. This made him a radical revolutionary in the 1830s.  He inculcated his Christian faith and his strong abolitionist beliefs into his children, and both his son, John Brown, and his daughter, Florella Brown Adair, put their father’s beliefs into action, both standing up for his abolitionist beliefs.

Owen Brown is an unsung abolitionist hero.

Grady Atwater is site administrator at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site.

Source: Grady Atwater, "Brown's anti-slavery fervor learned at father's knee."  Osawatomie Graphic [Osawatomie, Kan.], 27 Nov. 2013.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A John Brown Movie, This Time?  Ed Harris, Giancarlo Esposito to Star in Film Adaptation of Carton's Patriotic Treason

According to Deadline Hollywood (11/20), "Giancarlo Esposito has lined up historical drama, Patriotic Treason, as his next directing project, with Oscar-nominated Ed Harris set to star as radical abolitionist John Brown."  The story, adapted from Evan Carton's 2006 book on Brown, Patriotic Treason: John Brown And The Soul of America, is supposed to be adapted by Oscar nominee Jose Rivera (Motorcycle Diaries, On The Road), and centers on the Harper's Ferry raid.  According to According to Jen Yamato, "The Emmy-nominated Esposito will also star in Patriotic Treason as Frederick Douglass, the freed slave-turned-abolitionist and orator who declined to join Brown’s Harper’s Ferry attack."
Ed Harris
Esposito is quoted as saying: “John Brown was the lightning rod of his place and time, but, to me, his story is just as electric in our world today, where controversies about race, religion, patriotism, and the use of violence for democratic ends are as intense as they were then.” Yamato reports that the project came about because Keith Sweitzer, one of author Carton's former students at the University of Texas, now represents Spectrum Films, "and helped develop the book deal." Sweitzer, Robert Knott, and Esposito will produce the film, along with Act 4′s Jesse Singer & David Johnson, "who are eyeing an early summer shoot."  

Of course, the wind is full of old and new reports about John Brown movies, but despite the good news that friend Carton's book will be adapted for the silver screen, we won't hold our breath.  If we've learned anything from observing the story of almost-made movies about Brown, there will be no movie made about the Old Man until all the paperwork has been signed, all legalities are finalized, and all money is certain for all interested parties.  
Giancarlo Esposito

Evan Carton
This now makes two current John Brown book deals (the other being Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising), not to mention the ghosts of older "book deals," like Stephen Oates' 1970 biography and Russell Banks' 1998 fiction.  There are also a few screenplay projects underway, some with great hopefulness.   Indeed, it would be nice if more than one of these projects come to production, but I'll be happy with the film that most fairly and accurately portrays Brown.  In film, or so I understand, this largely depends on the director, regardless of the book from which the story is adapted.  So I am hopeful that Giancarlo Esposito will bring a positive influence upon this important contemporary treatment of Brown's story.  Certainly, we need a John Brown film for the 21st century, not a rehash of the "crazy" 20th century cinematic representation or the more recent "terrorist" analysis.

Best wishes to Evan Carton, the putative film producers, and both director/actor Giancarlo Esposito and the would-be "John Brown of the screen," Ed Harris.  Mr. Harris might find it interesting to know that an old friend of John Brown, who wrote to him during his last days in Virginia, was a prominent tycoon and antislavery man from Rhode Island named Edward Harris.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Auction News--
"A Life View" of John Brown for Sale

Historical Collectibles, a notable auction house based in Dallas, Tex., is now advertising "A Most Unusual and Rare Tintype Image of the Notorious Leader of the Harper's Ferry Raid."  The image is to be auctioned at HC's Americana Signature Auction in Dallas on November 23-24. According to HC, this tintype was included in an 1862 series of tintypes published by Abbott and Company of New York featuring prominent Americans. "These were widely distributed," declares HC's website, although this is the first they have seen of "this John Brown variety."  Quite in contrast, HC has seen "several dozen examples of the popular Lincoln version."  This is hardly a surprise.  

However, the John Brown image is not a new discovery, unlike the one recently reported on this blog--that image not yet being a public matter.  Brown image and document aficionado, Jean Libby, has included this image in her indispensable, John Brown Photo Chronology (Palo Alto, Calif., Allies for Freedom, 2009).  Libby notes that it originated as a daguerreotype made in January 1857, at the time Brown was moving among eastern antislavery people as an advocate of the Kansas Free State cause.  Libby provides an 1864 letter by James Redpath, who recalls that Brown had three copies of the daguerreotype made, one of which was personally given to him by the abolitionist.  

Subsequently, a lithograph engraving of Redpath's copy of the daguerreotype was made by John Chester Buttre for Redpath's 1860 authorized biography, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown.  Libby quotes a plastic surgeon and a forensic anthropologist, both of which believe the original daguerreotype image (now held by the Boston Atheneum) shows signs that Brown had had a small stroke; other health professionals have suggested Bell's palsy, which is more likely the case. Brown was also suffering with recurring bouts of malarial "Ague," and may have had related problems in his eye and ear as a result.  For many years, the daguerreotype image has been mistaken as Brown's "crazy picture," due to the prejudiced misrepresentations of writers and film makers in the 20th century.  Buttre's 1860 engraving ameliorated the sickly appearance of Brown to a great degree, although the tell-tale drooping mouth is still evident in the lithograph.

When apprised of the "tintype" on auction, Libby wrote: 
Mary Brown was directly involved in the distribution of photographs and the decision for Redpath to write a biography instead of Lydia Maria Child.  This occurred at the meetings in December 1859 at the time of Brown's funeral.  Redpath notes that she has approved the Buttre engraving, indicating that she did not like the original daguerreotype which shows the onset of an episode of Bell's Palsy.  
The January 1857 daguerreo-
type (the entire half-plate is
in the Boston Atheneum)
Libby also observed that "the tintype at auction was made from the engraving, therefore it is a mirror view of it, becoming a life view."

The latter point is worth reiterating: The HC tintype image is a derivation of the Buttre engraving, which itself was based upon the 1857 daguerreotype.  However, the tintype presents a real "life view" of Brown.  This is because daguerreotypes present a reversed image, and Buttre's engraving only reproduced the same reversed image.  This is important, particularly in this case, because the drooping side of Brown's face and mouth actually was on the right side.  In the Boston Atheneum daguerreotype and the Buttre engraving, it appears on the left side.   However, this tintype, being a photograph of the image, thus reverses the reversed image--setting right the actual appearance of the abolitionist's drooping mouth.  This is John Brown in 1857.

Historical Collectibles lists the image in Lot 38183, noting also that it is in "choice condition with original I.D. card on verso.  1.375 inches x 1.625 inches. Estimate: $1,000 - $2,000."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Black People's Ally, White People's Bogeyman

I borrow this entry's title from a piece that I contributed several years ago to The Afterlife of John Brown, an essay collection edited by Andrew Taylor and Eldrid Herrington (a UK production, not cheap, but probably better than most of the essay collections published about Brown in the USA). The following images are culled from the internet and reflect the historic rift between the way the white "majority" (not all co-called whites, of course!) and the black community (for the most part!) have perceived John Brown, especially in the 20th century.  The images speak for themselves.

First, John Brown, the white man's bogeyman. . .


Some illustrations are just peculiar and or portray Brown with a dark complexion, and it is not clear what the artist was trying to suggest. . .


Then there are images prepared by black artists, or which were associated with black publications:

These images reflect the historigraphy and general narratives published respectively by whites and blacks in the 20th century.  Of course, many positive and realistic images of Brown have been rendered by white artists over the past 150 years, and I can think of one black artist with (in my opinion) a perverse orientation, who has portrayed Brown in a sexually vulgar manner with the intention of undercutting his political significance.  On the whole, however, the "ally vs. bogeyman" theme is significant and finds its way into film and television documentaries as well, most of which are done from the "white" perspective in the USA.--LD

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Brown Family News--
There's Something About Mary

In recent years, the growth of interest in John Brown has happily sparked interest in the abolitionist's faithful second wife, Mary Ann (Day) Brown. Certainly, Jean Libby has once again led the way in exploring the Brown family's westward sojourn and later years in California, and has focused research on Mary Brown and her daughters for quite some time.  More recently is the publication of The Ties That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism (Cornell University Press, 2013) by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, Professor of History at Eastern Illinois University.  Laughlin-Schultz had evidently made a notable contribution to the study by producing the first extensive study of Mary Brown, who was an antislavery figure in her own beliefs.  The author also provides material on Anne Brown Adams, perhaps the most colorful of the abolitionists' daughters.  I look forward to reading The Ties That Bound Us, although I am sorry that Laughlin-Schultz chose to emphasize Anne's later years to the exclusion of the later years of Brown's eldest daughter, Ruth Brown Thompson.  It would seem to me that Ruth, being the eldest daughter, bears far closer examination.  Laughlin-Schultz is reasonable in focusing on Anne, since she did spend some months in Maryland, keeping house for her father prior to the Harper's Ferry raid.  In contrast, Ruth was not present with her father in the famous episodes of his antislavery activity, Kansas and Virginia.  Yet she was the eldest, and was married to Brown's favorite son-in-law, Henry Thompson, who was in Kansas with the Old Man.  An expansive study of Ruth's life would have made a study of "the women of John Brown's family" truly complete. Notwithstanding this gap, this book appears to be well-researched and documented, and will stand as a major contribution to the literature.  As to her reading of the Old Man both personally (including religion) as well as politically, I hope to provide a more helpful review in the near future.

Mary Brown en route to meet
her husband for the last time
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, 
Dec. 12, 1859)

Mary Brown, "A Bastion of Strength," Says Atwater

Osawatomie, Kan.--John Brown’s widow, Mary Day Brown, had the daunting task of caring for her family after John Brown’s hanging at Charlestown, Va. (now West Virginia), and John Brown’s supporters came to her aid.

Mary was a strong woman who took up the challenge of being a widow and a single mom amid the glare of publicity that came with being the widow of John Brown in the 1860s.
Mrs. George Stearns was one of John Brown’s supporters, and Mary related her gratitude for Stearns’ support for her family and John Brown’s abolitionist crusade in a March 13, 1863, letter. She wrote:
I saw the same account in the Liberater [sic] of the meeting of some the most noble souls that our country contains at your beautifull [sic] home and I must say that my soul leaped for joy when I read it. I was indeed and truly with you in spirit on that most glorious and long to be rememberd [sic] day. I saw that a committee of the same noble spirits visited the Presidend [sic] soon after I was much rejoiced at hopeing [sic] that some great good might result from it. My mind has been much with you ever since I knew the bust of my dear beloved husband was in your house. It was truly a place that he delited [sic] to visit when he was in the body. Oh I am so glad that he never made any move that you have to reflect on him for but that you rather rejoice over he done. It has been a great comfort to me to know that his own personal friends have never condemed [sic] his movements. It is only those that are capable of appreatiating his motives that can see any beauty in them.
Mary's last meeting with Brown, Dec. 1, 1859
Her faced obscured, this artist's rendering reminds
us that the devoted wife of the Abolitionist has
often been overlooked by historians
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, 17 Dec. 1859)
Mrs. George Stearns had helped John Brown’s daughters, Sarah and Annie, attend school, and Mary gave Mrs. Stearns a report on how Sarah and Annie were faring at school:
Sarah is realy [sic] doing well and Annie is doing quite well. I shall have them stay at school another term. I think that if you ever feel like doing any more for Sarah you will find it more satisfactory than you did before. She is capable of more improvement. I will send your love to them when I write.
Mary also thanked Mrs. George Stearns for story books that Mrs. Stearns had sent her daughter, Ellen, and wrote, “Ellen is a learning a great deal at home this winter. She begins to read the story books you sent her. She is a good girl.”

Mary Day Brown was a bastion of strength for the Brown family when John Brown was alive and engaged in his abolitionist crusade and stood stronger after John Brown’s death in 1859. She worked to provide for her family’s support and education in difficult times and is an unsung heroine in the John Brown saga in American history.

— Grady Atwater is administrator of the John Brown State Historic Site

Source: Grady Atwater, "John Brown' widow an unsung heroine," Osawatomie Graphic, 30 Oct. 2013