Black Heritage Riders -The Journey of A Modern African American Pioneer
Vol. II

Manhattan, New York- Los Angeles, California,   Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No. 848
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Miles Dean- Short Bio


Educator/Equestrian
New York To California Trail Rider
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Mr. Dean Commutes from New Jersey
 

 

West Virginia Commentary

companion photos

The Freedom Raiders 

As a young and impressionable child growing up in Brooklyn, New York I, like any other child of that day, wanted to be like the heroes I watch on the TV screen, and so I pretended to be a cowboy. I ate, slept, and dreamed Westerns. The details of every scene in most of the movies are etched in my memory. I remember how villains and heroes were portrayed with the good guy always winning in the end. I also remember the characterization of African Americans as being meek and humble even in the presence of their liberator. Such was a scene in a movie starring Erroll Flynn and Ronald Regan which looked at the life of the white abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859). In that movie John Brown was depicted as a crazed demigod of a man.

On my journey through West Virginia I visited Harpers Ferry, the place where John Brown led one of his raids aimed at the liberation of slaves and the abolishment of slavery. It was his last freedom raid because he was caught and hanged. He is said to have taken his inspiration to fight slavery with violence from two African-Americans who played key roles in the fight for racial justice.  He admired Nat Turner, the Virginia slave who, in 1831, led a bloody armed rebellion against plantation owners that left 55 white southerners dead.  He also held in high esteem Cinque, the leader of a successful 1837 revolt on the Spanish slave schooner The Amistad-- a ship that eventually found its way to the United States and became the focus of an intense legal battle that culminated in a Supreme Court decision granting the would-be slaves their freedom.  Brown accepted--and eventually, embraced--violence as necessary.

Brown presented an American constitution that he wrote to an antislavery convention of African-Americans in Chatham, Ontario in May 1858.  The convention approved his constitution and elected several blacks to official positions in the provisional government.  The convention itself was extraordinary.  As historian David Reynolds noted, "It was organized by a white man, attended largely by blacks, and designed to raise a black army to trigger an African American revolution that would wipe out slavery." The constitution begins as follows:

Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States.

 PREAMBLE.

Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion-the only conditions 'of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination-in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence:

Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme' Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitu­tion and Ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions

To view the full constitution visit: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/brownconstitution.html

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/brownaccount.html

The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said of Brown: "That new saint, than whom none purer or more brave was ever led by love of men into conflict and death,--the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the gallows glorious like the cross."  Emerson's "glorious gallows" speech polarized opinion, inspiring Brown's admirers and outraging his opponents.

Brown spoke these words prior to his hanging: The New Testament teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them....I have endeavored to act on that instruction.  I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons.  I believe that to have interfered, as I have done,...in behalf of His despised poor, is no wrong, but right.  Now,  if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood farther with the blood of my children and the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done."

Brown's efforts to secure racial justice were numerous and diverse.  He promoted a school for blacks.  He insisted that his two hired black employees be allowed to sit in his pew at his Congregational Church--an unprecedented demand that led to his expulsion from the church.  He became a stationmaster in the Underground Railroad, constructing a hiding place in his barn and taking fugitive slaves on nocturnal rides north to the next station. 

What has also been ignored by Hollywood and left out of the textbook is the fact that African American men joined John Brown on that raid with several leaving their educational endeavors at Oberlin College to fight with him for the liberation of other Blacks. It was a time when Black men fought for Black men and not against them!

For additional reading on John Brown visit: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/brownaccount.html