from “Tea and Sympathy:Liberals and Other White Hopes” by Lerone Bennett, Jr. PART II

See Part I here. 

Frederick Douglass 

 shields-green.jpgShields Green

 “In the end, John Brown made of himself an act of transcendence.  The act he chose–the tools, the means, the instruments– does not concern us here.  His act, as it happened, was violent and apocalyptic; but it could have been as gentle as rain in the spring, a word perhaps, yes, or a name or a life committed to a piece of paper.  Acts to the end grow out of the lineaments of men’s lives and it is up to each man to create and invent not only his act but the occasion of his act. 

“John Brown made his occasion, attacking the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in the hope of creating a situation in which slaves all over the South would flock to him.  He begged his old friend, Frederick Douglass, to accompany him; but Douglass insisted that the plan was premature.  The old white man and the young Negro argued from eight one night to three the next morning.  While they argued, a tough cynical fugitive slave named Shields Green watched and weighed.  After the argument, Douglass rose and asked Shields Green if he were ready to go.  Green thought for a moment and then said: “I believe I go wid de old man.”  Shields Green was in the mountains and could have escaped when  federal troops closed in on John Brown.  A man suggested flight, but Shields Green said: “I believe I go down wid de old man.”  And he did — all the way to the gallows.

“Why did Green deliberately sacrifice his life? 

“Not because he was irrevocably committed to John Brown’s way but because he was irrevocably committed to John Brown, because, in a horribly bloody and horribly tangible way, a prayer had been answered; because he at long last found a man, neither black nor white, who was willing to go all the way. 

“Who?

“I believe I go wid de old man.”

“Who?

“A man for all seasons,” a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. 

“Who?

“A John Brown or a Wendell Phillips or a Paine.  It may be that America can no longer produce such men.  If so, all is lost.  Cursed is the nation, cursed is the people, who can no longer breed indigenous radicals when it needs them. 

“There was an America once that was big enough for a Phillips; there was even an America big enough for a Brown.

“What happened to that America?

“Who killed it?

“We killed it, all of us, Negroes and whites, with our petty evasions and paternalistic doles, with our sycophantic simpering and our frantic flights from truth and risk and danger.  We killed it, all of us, liberals and activists with the rest.  Can the stone be rolled once again from the mouth of the cave?  It is my faith — and all Negroes who do not have that faith are in or on their way to prisons, asylums, or Paris — that buried somewhere deep beneath the detergents and lies is the dead body of the America that made Thomas Jefferson a lawbreaker and John Brown a martyr. 

“Can the stone be rolled away again?

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One Response to “from “Tea and Sympathy:Liberals and Other White Hopes” by Lerone Bennett, Jr. PART II”

  1. bjkeefe Says:

    Very thought-provoking. Thanks for typing it in.

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