Commemorating John Brown and Harper’s Ferry

I was watching a debate on South Carolina Educational Television the night before Thanksgiving on whether slavery would have survived the Civil War.  The two august scholars only disagreed on how much longer it would have continued.  One projected until the 1880s and one quoted Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debate when he speculated it would take a hundred years to die out naturally.

That’s why the raid on Harper’s Ferry, funded surreptitiously by the likes of Mary Ellen Pleasant, was one of those watershed moments in history.  Jean Libby, author of a new photo book and exhibition on John Brown, sends this announcement on commemoration activities around the country.  Pan African City Alive also hosts an observance on Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. in Sunnyvale, CA.



Sunday, November 29 – Mother Bethel Church, Free

John Brown a Man of Faith: In Music and Words. Mother Bethel Church choir at 11 am service, followed by public program featuring a talk on John Brown by Charles Blockson, Emeritus Curator – Charles Blockson Collection at Temple University.

Monday November 30 – Cliveden, 6:30 p.m., Free –

The North’s Slavery Legacy. Open House. 6:30 p.m. Through the lives of the Chew family, learn how slavery produced northern wealth and was engrained in northern life-styles. Learn about the enslaved people that worked for the Chews and how their story is changing the interpretive program at Cliveden. For more information contact:

Tuesday, December 1

Shiloh Baptist Church, 6 p.m. Free Philadelphia’s Vigil for John Brown’s Hanging. This day marks the 150th anniversary of vigils held for John Brown in Philadelphia. Experience a living history performance honoring the vigils held by the black community and abolitionists for John Brown and his men. This program is written and produced by Philadelphia’s Millicent Sparks and will feature music by Shiloh Baptist Church. [download flyer in Adobe Acrobat format]

Wednesday, December 2, noon – 1 pm, Free

– Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Hamilton Auditorium, 118 N. Broad St. In Memoriam: Horace Pippin’s John Brown Going to His Hanging. This day marks the 150th anniversary of the hanging of John Brown, one of the most controversial and celebrated men of the nineteenth century, whose raid on Harper’s Ferry and subsequent execution caused stirrings across the nation. For years, artists have depicted these events in myriad ways, including an iconic painting by Horace Pippin titled John Brown Going to His Hanging. Join art historian and Pippin expert Judith Stein on this historic anniversary for a discussion of Pippin’s painting and the quietly heroic figure of John Brown that it portrays. This program is part of the Art-at-Lunch Lecture Series and is free and open to the public. For more information, contact PAFA at 215-972-2105 or visit our website:

Wednesday, December 2 – Charles Blockson Collection, Temple University, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., Free

Conversation on the Legacy of John Brown with Charles Blockson and Dr. Molefi Kete Asante. Mr. Blockson will discuss his family’s personal connection to John Brown, the Underground Railroad and John Brown’s relationship with the African American community. Dr. Asante will present “John Brown: An Authentic Hero of Liberty“, where he will examine the reason why most Americans have forgotten the thoughts and deeds of John Brown. Dr Asante will reintroduce us to John Brown and Brown as an authentic actor for human freedom, showing that Brown was not insane but simply living in an inhuman and insane context. Charles Blockson is national authority on the Underground Railroad and Curator Emeritus and founder of the Charles Blockson Collection at Temple University. Dr. Molefi Kete Asante is Professor, Department of African American Studies at Temple University. He is the author of seventy books, including African American History: A Journey of Liberation. For more information contact:

Wednesday, December 2, 6 pm, Free – Historical Society of Pennsylvania/Library Company of Philadelphia



moment in the struggle for civil rights. The guest speaker will be Dr. Louis A. DeCaro Jr., author of

, 1300 Locust Street – The Empty Coffin: John Brown and Philadelphia. After his death, John Brown’s body traveled through Philadelphia. The mayor worried about riots in the streets, so a plan was devised to sneak Brown’s body away safely. Learn about this story and commemorate the anniversary of this pivotal Fire from the Midst of You: A Religious Life of John Brown. After the lecture, guests can view original documents from the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia, including John Brown’s will. The documents will also be available as an online John Brown exhibit. FREE. To register, visit or call 215-732-6200 for more information. ****************************************************************************

AKRON — The city will conclude its year-long commemoration of John Brown, who led the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, with a special ceremony and lecture Dec. 2 at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 647 E. Market St. The ceremony is sponsored by the city of Akron, the Summit County Historical Society and First Presbyterian Church.

Following the service, at noon, Mayor Don Plusquellic and students from Goodyear Middle School will ring a historic bell that will begin the ringing of church bells throughout Downtown Akron, just as they were in Akron on the day Brown was hanged, Dec. 2, 1859. On the day of his execution, bells rang and flags flew at half-staff in Akron, the courts adjourned and stores closed, according to city officials. That night “a great indignation meeting” took place in Empire Hall, and speeches were made by Akron’s leading citizens.

Historian Paul Finkelman will deliver remarks at the 11 a.m. service. Finkelman, the William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School, is the editor of “Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown” (Ohio University Press, 2005) and “His Soul Goes Marching On — Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid” (University Press of Virginia, 1995).

Charles Town

December 2, 2009– NAACP John Brown Observance


Time: 11:00 A.M. Location: Meet on Courthouse Lawn, Charles Town, WV Contact Name: Lyn Widmyer Contact Number:(304) 725-4326 Website:

Procession and ceremony from the site of the Charles Town jail to the John Brown hanging site

December 2, 2009– Freedom Fighter – v – Traitor?


Time: 7:00 P.M. Location: Charles Town Library, Charles Town, WV Contact Name: George Rutherford Contact Number: (304) 725-9610 Website:

A debate on the John Brown legacy sponsored by the Jefferson County NAACP


One thought on “Commemorating John Brown and Harper’s Ferry

  1. Thank you so much, John, for helping to spread the word about all the community events nationwide that commemorate John Brown.

    I think you are right in concluding it would take much longer to end slavery without Brown’s activism.

    He was a lightning rod who galvanized the majority population to think for a moment about enslaved people as human beings who have the natural right (as articulated by the philosopher John Locke) to rebel against the slaveholders and free themselves.

    When that moment passed, which was purchased with Brown’s willingness to die to articulate it, the country would never be the same.

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