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100 Years Ago

Black History
Civil War
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John Brown
White Abolitionist (1800-1859)

John Brown was a fiery abolitionist and preacher who was born in Connecticut and, at the age of five, moved to Ohio. His father’s repulsion for the institution of slavery had a lasting affect on young John that would lead him to infamy in the annals of American history.

In 1833, he married teenager Mary Ann Day of Meadville, Pennsylvania, who would bear him a total of 13 children (although only six lived to adulthood). Starting in 1834, Brown began educating Negroes, and for the next twenty years he, and his family, worked actively within the abolitionist movement.

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In 1855, he and five of his sons, began abolitionist actions in the Kansas Territory, where in Lawrence, Kansas, a group of abolitionists were murdered by pro-slavery forces. On May 24, 1856, he and his sons avenged their death by killing five pro-slavery advocates. He was now nationally known and supported by east-coast abolitionists and cultivated friendships with many of them, including Frederick Douglass.

Brown’s infamous attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on October 16, 1859, intended to strike a blow for anti-slavery forces, was courageous, unfortunate and misguided. The attacking party of 21 men included Brown along with 3 of his sons (John, Oliver, Owen). Comprised of 16 whites and 5 blacks, the group’s average age was 25 years old. Taking prominent citizens as hostages, they occupied the federal arsenal to reinforce their demand that slaves in the surrounding territory be liberated. These slaves would give Brown a nucleus of men from which he would form an army that would free the Negroes in the South. His desperate plan failed, when after being surrounded by the local militia, they attacked Brown’s insurgents, wounded him, and secured the rebels’ arrests on the morning of October 18. The militia, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, killed 10 of Brown’s men, including 2 of his sons.

He was executed on December 2, 1859, at Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia), but not before he distinguished himself in an eloquent defense of his actions on behalf of slaves. In a famous letter, written to his children on the eve of his death, he wrote, in part, "I am as content to die for God’s eternal truth on the scaffold as in any other way." His dedication to a cause, was, and is, immortalized in the song, "John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave."

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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