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

hovenden-john-brown.jpgLast Moments of John Brown by Hovenden

 john brownJohn Brown  John Brown                                    

 Published 1964 in The Negro Mood and Other Essays by Lerone Bennett Jr.

 This excerpt from “Allies for Freedom & Blacks on John Brown” by Benjamin Quarles

“It is to John Brown that we must go, finally, if we want to understand the limitations and possibilities of our situation.  He was of no color, John Brown, of no race or age.  He was pure passion, pure transcendence.  He was an elemental force like the wind, rain and fire.  “A volcano beneath a mountain of snow,” someone called him.

“A great gaunt man with a noble head, the look of a hawk and the intensity of a saint, John Brown lived and breathed justice.  As a New England businessman, he sacrificed business and profits, using his warehouse as a station on the underground railroad.  In the fifties, he became a full-time friend of freedom, fighting small wars in Kansas and leading a group of Negro slaves out of Missouri.  Always, everywhere, John Brown was preaching the primacy of the act.  “Slavery is evil, he said, “kill it.”

“But we must study the problem…”

Slavery is evil–kill it!

“We will hold a conference…”

Slavery is evil–kill it!

“But our allies…”

Slavery is evil–kill it!

“John Brown was contemptuous of conferences and study groups and graphs.  “Talk, talk, talk,” he said.  Women were suffering, children were dying–and grown men were talking.  Slavery was not a word; it was a fact, a chain, a whip, an event; and it seemed axiomatic to John Brown that facts could only be controverted by facts, a life by a life.

“There was in John Brown a complete identification with the oppressed.  It was his child that a slaveowner was selling; his sister who was being whipped in the field; his wife who was being raped in the gin house.  It was not happening to Negroes; it was happening to him.  Thus it was said that he could not bear to hear the word slave spoken.  At the sound of the word, his body vibrated like the strings of a sensitive violin.  John Brown was a Negro, and it was in this aspect that he suffered.

“More than Frederick Douglass, more than any other Negro leader, John Brown suffered with the slave.  “His zeal in the cause of freedom,” Frederick Douglass said, “was infinitely superior to mine.  Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun.  Mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the silent shores of eternity.  I could speak for the slave; John Brown could fight for the slave.  I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for the slave.” 

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