African-American Perspectives
The Progress of a People
Segregation and Violence Solving the Race Problem Contributions to the Nation

SESSION 2: The Church as a Factor | Champions of Human Liberty | Industrial Education | Higher Education

Session Topic
The Champions of Human Liberty -- How Shall We Honor Them?
Image: captions follows
John Brown (1800-1859). Black and Batchelder. Photograph, 1859. LC-USZ62-2472.
John Brown was a white radical abolitionist whose very name came to symbolize the passion and fury of the nation's struggle over slavery. Born in 1800 of New England Puritan stock, Brown moved from one trade to another, never proving very successful. Married twice, he had twenty children. An intensely religious man, Brown believed that he had a mandate from God to destroy slavery at any cost.

In the 1850s Brown joined five of his sons in Kansas, where he took a leading role in the deadly fight to keep the state free of slavery. He planned to help escaping fugitive slaves by building a series of natural and defensible forts in the mountains of Virginia. As a first step, on the night of October 16, 1859, Brown joined two of his sons, five black men, and fifteen other supporters and raided Harper's Ferry (now in West Virginia). He captured a federal arsenal and held sixty of the town's residents hostage.

Two days later, after a pitched battle with a small body of Marines led by Robert E. Lee, Brown surrendered. He was wounded, two of his sons and six more of his men were killed, five escaped, and seven were captured. John Brown was tried for treason and murder, convicted, and hanged December 2, 1859. A monster in the eyes of slaveholders, Brown became an instant martyr to abolitionists.

Pamphlet Excerpt
from "John Brown, an Address" by Frederick Douglass

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Audio Transcription:

The question is, Did John Brown fail? He certainly did fail to get out of Harper's Ferry before being beaten down by United States soldiers; he did fail to save his own life, and to lead a liberating army into the mountains of Virginia. But he did not go to Harper's Ferry to save his life. The true question is, Did John Brown draw his sword against slavery and thereby lose his life in vain? and to this I answer ten thousand times, No! No man fails, or can fail who so grandly gives himself and all he has to a righteous cause...Did John Brown fail? Ask Henry A. Wise in whose house less than two years after, a school for the emancipated slaves was taught. Did John Brown fail? Ask James M. Mason, the author of the inhuman fugitive slave bill, who was cooped up in Fort Warren, as a traitor less than two years from the time that he stood over the prostrate body of John Brown...If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery.

SESSIONS: Segregation and Violence | Solving the Race Problem | Contributions to the Nation

The Progress of a People

African-American Perspectives