Archive for the ‘John Brown’ Category

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

February 24, 2008

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. 


“I believe I go wid de old man.”


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


“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?


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

February 24, 2008

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.”