By Anonymous (not verified) on 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.

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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 buffs.

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 at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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