John Brown, Family Fave

Posted on February 19, 2021


I woke up the other day and checked the weather app on my phone. It said the temp was -12. The ACTUAL temperature, not the “Real Feel” bit. WHOA.

I went down to the kitchen, opened the faucets to trickle and opened the cupboard to let the heat get to the pipes. When I returned to my bedroom, I took all my work with me. With its low ceiling, it’s the warmest room in the house. I put another layer of blankets on the windows and settled in for a day of reading and writing.

I do a lot of writing. Besides this blog, I now have four journals in progress: personal journal, wellness journal, a comic per day notebook, and a 3-year garden journal that was a birthday gift. Right now, the only data to record in the garden journal is the temperature and weather, but it won’t be long, and I’ll have more to report–not that I’m anxious for spring or anything…

The new PBS series, The Black Church, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is out, and I watched the first two episodes. I was troubled by the way the narration depicts the Black community as uniformly Christian and makes claims like “the Black community would not exist without the Black church.” That’s an over-reach and exclusionary of all the non-Christian and non-believers in the Black community. I knew I was going to see respectability on display, but I still find it troubling. While it only presents the positive side of the Black church, it is a moving celebration of Black history in America, and a clear reminder of just how much of what is considered American culture is Black culture–and, of course, how white supremacy is “baked into” the nation from the beginning. It’s a great series. I highly recommend it. (Online: Episode 1; Episode 2)

It’s a big week for religion at the eddy place: I picked up the biography of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds. John Brown believed he was predestined to do the task his Calvinist Christian God demanded of him: end slavery and bring about equal rights. As a teen, he and his long-time anti-slavery activist father, Owen, attended a talk in honor of murdered anti-slavery activist and journalist, Elijah Lovejoy, at the hands of a pro-slavery Southern mob. There, the speaker, Laurens P. Hickock, asked his audience, “Are we free or are we slaves under Southern mob law?”

John Brown stood up, raised his right hand, and said, “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!” (65)

The biography is a dense read of 500+ pages, but it’s broken into eighteen chapters, so I’m reading one chapter per day. Every moment is riveting, and unlike the PBS documentary, it is not a celebration of Brown or his religion; the human failings and harm caused by both are on full display in this heavily researched cultural biography. I highly recommend this book; as a cultural biography, readers learn about the historical, cultural, and political contexts of JB’s parents’ lives, his childhood, and throughout his life. It’s a whole lot more than his life story. It’s the story of America.

I texted my son the other day, and I told him that I was reading the John Brown bio. Ironically, he texted back that he was listening to a podcast about JB! I guess he’s a family favorite! I have fond memories of our road trip to Lawrence Kansas, where we stayed overnight in the historic Eldridge Hotel that pro-slavery mobs from burned down several times. We also ate at a brew pub with John Brown as their logo.

I checked out the podcast, and it was chock full of great stories about John and the fight to end slavery. Check out Jermaine Fowler’s Humanity Archive episodes: #17: John Brown-Break Every Chain and #18: John Brown- Break Every Chain Part II. His storytelling skills will leave you wanting more history lessons! I’m glad my son told me about this great podcast.

For a bit more JB-related history, here are a couple more links on the subject.

Paul Robeson sings “John Brown’s Body”

The Magnet and the Iron: John Brown and George L. Stearns Exhibit at Tufts University

lisa eddy is a writer and editor for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

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