Thursday, May 13, 2010

Never Forget John Brown

Never Forget John Brown


by Kevin Alexander Gray


The -- May 12, 2010


This week marks John Brown's 210th birthday. After enduring

a month of Southern states celebrating the Confederacy,

let's hear it for abolitionist John Brown.


Brown was born on May 9, 1800. When he took over Harpers

Ferry on Oct. 16, 1859, he was not only drawing attention to

the crime of slavery, he was also trying to provide the

spark for a slave rebellion.


He declared his "sympathy with the oppressed and wronged,

that are good as you and as precious in the sight of God."

This was a direct challenge to the South, to slaveholders

everywhere and to white supremacy.


And even after he was tried and convicted of treason against

the state of Virginia, even as he awaited the gallows, he

did not relent.


"You may dispose of me easily, but this question is still to

be settled - the Negro question - the end of that is not

yet," he said. Prophetically, he added: "I, John Brown, am

now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will

never be purged away but with blood."


Brown's willingness to give his life for equality and

freedom puts the lie to all the efforts to recast the Civil

War as the "War of Northern Aggression" and to sugarcoat the

honoring of the Confederacy with such slogans as "Heritage,

Not Hate."


We blacks know in our bones that Confederate History Month

is nothing more than the glorification of white supremacy.

We shouldn't stand for it, and nor should any American who

believes in the words of the Declaration of Independence

that "all men are created equal."


The neo-Confederate motto is "Never forget." We should all

adopt it.


Let's never forget John Brown. Let's never forget the other

abolitionists, black and white, who campaigned against

slavery. Let's make sure that their stories are told in our

national parks and on the markers and monuments and at the

battle sites that serve as tourist attractions for Civil War



I recently visited Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Appomattox and

other Civil War sites. I was the only black person in sight,

with the exception of a few park workers. At Appomattox, I

saw visitors placing Confederate flags on tombstones.


Doubtless, the efforts to rehabilitate the Southern cause

seem to come at moments of racial and social stress by folk

who feel alienated and angry about a "black" president or

health care reform or "big government," though their anti-

government concerns seem to melt away when it comes to

spending tax dollars to maintain the ever-growing list of

parks, monuments and battle sites.


Still, the glorification of the Confederacy is mostly about

white resistance to black advances, white resentment at the

erosion of white privilege. It's been that way since the

1880s and 1890s.


So, no, we should never forget.


We should not forget that even during enslavement and the

war people of African descent fought back. There were the

five black men among Brown's raiding party: Lewis Leary,

Dangerfield Newby, Shields Green, Osborne Perry Anderson and

John Anthony Copeland Jr., along with the 16 white men who

followed Brown to Harpers Ferry.


The fight to protect white privilege goes on. We have to

fight back by being honest about the history of our

republic. And we have to tell all our stories.


Remember John Brown.




Kevin Alexander Gray is the author of the recently

published books "Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The

Fundamentals of Black Politics" and "The Decline of Black

Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama." He can be reached




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